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> tisoz's Second Shadowrun Fiction Contest, They wrote it, you enjoy it
... and the Winner is?
You cannot see the results of the poll until you have voted. Please login and cast your vote to see the results of this poll.
Total Votes: 49
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tisoz
post Aug 2 2006, 09:56 AM
Post #1


Free Spirit
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Group: Dumpshocked
Posts: 3,944
Joined: 26-February 02
From: Bloomington, IN UCAS
Member No.: 1,920



Here are the submissions. Vote, discuss the merits of the entry, influence my decision.

A vote for The Samaritan is a wasted vote. I already discussed the submission with the author, and although I like it, I already read it when it was posted elsewhere.

As usual, authors names will be added after the results are in. This is to minimize bias. Authors may PM me with needed edits.

Link to vote for other winners.
How this came about as well as links to fiction from other contests
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tisoz
post Aug 2 2006, 10:16 AM
Post #2


Free Spirit
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Group: Dumpshocked
Posts: 3,944
Joined: 26-February 02
From: Bloomington, IN UCAS
Member No.: 1,920



The Samaritan
by Musashi Forever

“You shoulda seen The Samaritan last night, Spanner. He was amazing!”

The dwarf rigger looked up at his ork friend. “Up to his usual tricks, aye?”

“You bet,” Razz replied then paused to take a drink. The ork slammed an empty beer glass down on the bar and loudly demanded another as was his usual manner. Then he turned back to his diminutive partner. “Get this, we had Zoot open a fifteen minute window in their security, so Big C dropped us on the roof and we got in no problem. It was way late so we got down to the computer room without seeing any of the night-shift guards. I tell ya man, they were running a skeleton crew or something, cuz there was like no one there.” The bartender arrived with another glass for Razz. The ork nodded his thanks and began to guzzle it, his story aborted for the moment.

“So it was just you and Samaritan on the inside?” Spanner asked between sips of his own gin and tonic.

Razz set down his now half-full beer and wiped his mouth with the back of his sleeve. “Yeah, just him and me. So we wuz sittin in the computer room, I was running a detect life spell to keep anybody from sneaking up on us and Samaritan was loading Zoot’s program into the mainframe so we could get the info we needed to get paid, y’know. Anyway, our fifteen minutes of freedom was about half gone when the program cheeses out on us. I mean it totally fragged-up.”

Spanner was really interested now. He’d heard hundreds of run stories in his time, told hundreds too. If there was one thing he’d learned from them, it was that runs that got messed up were the most interesting ones. “What’d you do, mate. Did you have to abort?”

“No way man,” Razz replied after a gulp of beer. “I got a little nervous, you know. I don’t know drek about computers and when one starts making the noises that thing did, I just want to freak out, but Samaritan was all frosty. He looks at me and says, ‘Don’t worry, Zoot told me what to do if this happens.’ So I’m watchin him and he pulls out this big freaking knife and jams it into the freaking computer.”

“He stuck a knife into the mainframe?”

“Yeah man, he did, and I just about died from the shock. I’m thinking, drek, Samaritan just lost it and I ain’t gonna get paid, right? Then he pushes the knife handle down and pops off the access panel. And I say, ‘Damn, Samaritan you coulda told me that’s all you were doing.’ And that dickhead just gives me that little smile of his then goes back to rootin around inside the computer.”

Spanner smirked; he’d seen the Samaritan’s “little smile” more than a few times himself. Sometimes that guy had a pretty sick sense of humor. “So he was going after the hardware?”

“Yeah. That fragger Zoot told him that if the program didn’t work, then we could grab the hard drive and get the info out of it manually. He just wanted to see if his new mojo could melt corporate IC or not.” The ork scowled. “Those drekheads coulda told me though, saved me a lotta grief. Anyhow, Samaritan finds the module we need and yanks it out, and the drek hits the fan.”

“It was rigged?”

“Yeah, man. As soon as he pulled it out, bunch of alarms started going off. So we hightail it outta there, but as soon as we get back to the stairwell to go back to the roof, a friggin drone is waiting for us and starts spitting at us with its loogie gun. One shot skims my side and sticks my arm to my chest, but I manage to put up a bullet barrier before it can hit us with any more.”

“It was in the stairwell?” Spanner asked. As a rigger he was always happy to hear about drones and vehicles.

“Yeah, hanging from a fragging track that ran around the outside wall off the stairwell. We’d seen it on the way down, but couldn’t figure out what it was for, so we forgot about it. So...uh, where was I?”

“You’d just put up a magical barrier to block the glue gun.”

“Oh yeah,” the ork said. “The beer must be getting to me. So the drone couldn’t hit us anymore, but we couldn’t go up the stairs either, so we had to go down. Damn man, I’ve never done fifteen stories worth of steps so fast in my life. We didn’t see any more drones, but we ran into a few guards on like the fifth floor, but they must not be gettin paid very much, cuz they got out of our way real fast after the Samaritan fired a couple smartgun bursts over their heads. We busted out the stairway into the parking garage at the exact same time their high threat response team showed up.”

“Damn,” Spanner whistled.

“Damn straight, damn,” Razz agreed. “So they pile out of their van and start blazin away at us. I thought we were toast right there. I was feelin a little drained from my spell casting and I knew I couldn’t throw up a barrier that would block that much firepower, but Samaritan tackled me and got us both out of the way behind somebody’s Americar.” Another pause for beer, then Razz continued. “I tell you chummer; those boys at ARS Security are a bunch of trigger happy hoop-holes. No demand to surrender or nothing, they just turned that car into Swiss cheese. I took a chance and popped my head up long enough to drop a guy with a mana bolt, but then the Samaritan pulled me back down, said he spotted a way out. So we wait a couple more seconds and the rate of bad-guy fire drops off as like half of them start running out of ammo. Then we pop up and each burn off a clip in their general direction while we run for the exit.”

“Did you get any of the fraggers?”

The ork shook his head, “Couldn’t tell, man. I was running so fast the other way, just firing my TMP over my shoulder. So me and Samaritan hit the emergency exit he saw and we bust out into the alley behind the building. I look and down at the end I can see Big C’s van, he had remoted it over to the building as a back-up in case we had to go out the bottom floor instead of the roof. Good thing him and the Samaritan are all about back-up plans.”

Spanner snorted, “I’m surprised that old van was able to make it more than a block.”

“Yeah I know, but that piece of drek van looked like a fraggin limo to me, it was my sweet ticket outta there. So we both tear hoop down the alley cuz we know that the drekheads with the guns are right behind us and I am so focused on getting to the van that I almost trip over a homeless guy.”

Spanner laughed, “What was he doing there?”

“I dunno, man. I ain’t homeless. He musta been sleeping there or something. Anyway if the Samaritan hadn’t caught me I woulda done a nice face plant and the fraggers woulda put a few bullets in my hoop. So we keep going and it’s just about this time that bullets start chasing us, chewing up the ground at our feet and flyin past our heads. I got to the van first and dove in the sliding door on the side and I look around and the Samaritan ain’t with me. I find him, but I think I’m seein things cuz he’s runnin back the way we came.”

“Back down the alley?” the dwarf asked with alarm.

“Hell yeah,” Razz replied. “I still can’t believe it, but that dumb keeb was running back down the alley towards the bunch of idiots who’d been trying to kill us for the past coupla minutes. So I watch him and he’s ziggin and zaggin and he ain’t getting hit. He fires back at ‘em with his Ingram, but it only spits out five or six rounds because he ain’t had time to reload it. So he drops it and lets it hang by its strap and pulls out his Deputy and starts shooting at them with that. Then he stops running and bends over. I think he got hit, but then he stands back up and he’s holdin something.”

“Oh, did he drop the computer piece?”

“No, man. He had that in a bag on his belt, he didn’t lose it. He was holdin something a lot bigger.”

“Well what was it?” Spanner was on the edge of his barstool.

“It was the fraggin homeless guy. Apparently he’d gotten up after I tripped over his legs and he got himself shot by the ARS drekheads.”

“Wait,” Spanner said. He couldn’t believe it. “I know the Samaritan’s a good guy and all, always giving money to poor people and helping out at that soup kitchen in the barrens, but you’re telling me he took on a pissed-off, trigger happy HTR team by himself, just to pull a homeless fragger out of that alley?”

Razz raised his hands and adopted a solemn expression. “I swear on my life that’s what happened, man. The Samaritan ran back into a fraggin wall of bullets and grabbed this guy, then carried him back out and threw him in the van and made Big C drive us to the nearest clinic to get the guy patched up before we did anything else.”

“And the Samaritan didn’t get hurt?”

“Not a fraggin scratch. His jacket even had a few holes in it, and there were some powder burns on his skin, but nothing a couple band-aids and shower wouldn’t take care of.”

“That’s pretty fraggin unbelievable,” Spanner said in awe.

“Yeah, no drek, chummer. And Samaritan even paid the homeless guy’s hospital bill. He says that when the old guy gets better he’s gonna try to get him into some kind of recovery program they have down at the place he volunteers at.”

“Fraggin heart of gold.”

“You said it man,” Razz agreed as he finally finished his beer. “I guess that’s why we call him the Samaritan.”

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tisoz
post Aug 2 2006, 10:36 AM
Post #3


Free Spirit
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From: Bloomington, IN UCAS
Member No.: 1,920



Better Run, Runner
by Musashi Forever

Razz threw himself down behind a parked Toyota Elite as automatic weapons fire ripped through the space he had just occupied. He hit the hard asphalt next to Twitch.

“Oh drek, oh drek, oh drek!” yelled the gnome decker. He was curled up into a ball and whimpered as more gunfire tore chunks out of the bricks behind them.

“Clam the frag down!” Razzed yelled back. The ork reached under his long coat and unfastened the AK-97 assault rifle from the sling that allowed it to hang vertically at his side. “I knew we shouldn’t have brought him along,” he muttered under his breath as he unfolded the gun’s wire frame stock and worked the action.
A woman’s voice erupted from the radio receiver in his ear, “You know we needed the halfer to hack their system from inside.”

“Kim? Where are you?” Razz was surprised. This was the first he had heard from her since he saw her take a shotgun blast to the chest. He had figured her for dead when his calls over the comlink had gone unanswered.

“Other side of the parking lot,” she replied. There was a pause accompanied by gunfire that Razz could hear over the radio and from a couple of hundred meters away. “I’m a little deep in the drek right now with a couple of goons. You?”

“Drone,” was all that Razz managed to get out before the metallic tearing sound of bullets hitting the Elite’s body caused him to hug the ground even tighter.

“Well take it out and get your hoops over to Seventh and Schindler. Big C’s going to meet us there with his van.”

“Got ya.”

“And I don’t need to tell you how important Twitch is.”

“Yeah, yeah. We’re comin’.”

He glanced down and made sure the magazine in his AK had a band of yellow tape around it. He would need explosive ammo to take on a combat drone. He looked at his little companion. The gnome was useless, still locked in a fetal position, moaning to himself. This was the first and last time he would be working with this drekhead. Razz would have considered leaving the decker for the corpers, but the team’s score was locked away inside Twitch’s headware memory. Without that info, they wouldn’t get paid.

Weapon ready, Razz began whispering ancient words, the likes of which had not been uttered in millennia. As he spoke he traced his finger in the air. His hand left a faint glowing line in its wake. The moment that he uttered the final phrase the eerie glowing lines flared briefly, and then disappeared. Although nothing changed from Razz’s perspective, he knew that he would be invisible to both men and machines.

He kept concentrating on the mana flowing around him as the drone fired again. This time several of the car’s windows shattered, covering the runners with glass and causing Twitch to scream. Razz could hear the drone’s humming electric motor as it rolled closer to their hiding place. Trusting his spell, the ork rolled out onto the sidewalk, then knelt and put his weapon to his left shoulder, leveling it at the Steel Lynx combat drone mere meters away.

The Steel Lynx was a formidable opponent. Razz could see its heavy armor plating and the Ares Alpha combat gun mounted on its turret-like sensor housing. It was slowly approaching the Toyota, turning away from him to move around the other end of the car. He took careful aim, allowing the crosshair projected onto his retina by his smartlink system to line up with the drone’s ammunition feed system. He had one chance to score a killing blow. As soon as he fired, his magical illusion would be shattered. The invisible ork squeezed the trigger twice, fighting the weapon’s recoil as two three-round bursts of explosive bullets erupted against the remote controlled machine.

The shots started a chain reaction as the Alpha’s caseless cartridges began to explode, traveling down the feeding unit into the drone’s ammunition bay. The Steel Lynx ripped itself apart from the inside and Razz grunted as a sharp piece of metal embedded itself in his armored vest. Careful not to cut himself on the shrapnel, he pulled it out and dropped it on the ground. Cutting off the flow of mana, he terminated his invisibility spell.

There was a sustained burst of gunfire from what he reckoned to be Kim’s position and Razz looked in time to see a corporate security guard fall backward with a scream. Kim stood up from behind a car and waved to him, motioning for him to come to her. Bad luck had gotten them caught. Now they had to get away before the run was truly hosed.

The ork looked back at Twitch, who was still on the ground, “Come on!” he yelled. “Come on! The drone’s gone!” His words did not seem to have any effect on the frightened gnome.

Kim’s exasperated voice exploded in his ear, “Razz, you dumb trog, hurry the frag up!”

Sick of Twitch’s cowardice, Razz strode over to the gnome, picked him up, and began running towards Kim. The decker remained nearly comatose while riding over the ork’s shoulder.

He found the female street sam leaning heavily against the side of a Ford Americar. Blood leaked from several places under her clothes. She took one look at Twitch and scowled.

“Drek! Stupid halfer forgot to take his medication.”

“Tell me about it,” Razz replied with disgust. “Which way to the pick-up?”

She used the Ford to help herself straighten-up and take a quick look around, getting her bearings, and then pointed towards a nearby alley, “That way,” she said. Hang a left at the end and you two’ll come out on Seventh. Big C’s waiting half a block down near the Schindler Avenue intersection.”

Something about what she had said struck him funny. As he stood for a moment trying to figure it out, Razz heard a high pitched whining that quickly grew to a roar. Despite her wounds, Kim hurled herself at the ork magician, the weight of her body slamming him and his gnomish cargo to the ground. Razz heard the chatter of a heavy machine gun and the impact of high velocity slugs tearing into the pavement where he had just been standing. The Yellowjacket security chopper flew by not ten meters above them, its high speed run carrying it a ways down the street before its pilot could begin a banking turn. Due to the press of the skyscrapers on either side, the chopper had to slip onto a side street before he could make his way back.

“Damn it!” Kim said as she failed to lift herself up. “Get going! You two’ll make it, but you’ve got to go now!”

There it was again, something she was saying just didn’t sound right. This time Razz’s brain figured it out quick enough to transform his thoughts into words. “What do you mean ‘you two’? You’re coming with.”

“I took a couple in the legs, Razz. And that fall snapped something. I can’t crawl as fast as you can run.”

Razz could hear the whine again. They had seconds. “I’m not gonna leave you.”

“Well you can’t carry both of us and you can’t toss, Twitch,” Kim screamed in exasperation.

“Yes I fraggin’ can,” Razz replied as he dropped his rifle and groped in the pockets of his long coat. He came out with a small inhaler made of dark red plastic. Putting the device to his lips he hit the activation stud and inhaled as the vial released a burning aerosol. Immediately, the burning sensation filled his head, and then the rest of his body. His pupils dilated and his fists clenched, crushing the inhaler.
Before the drug could claim more than just his physical form, Razz focused his thoughts on one thing, escaping down that alley with his friends. Not hearing her protests or feeling her hands pushing him away, Razz threw Kim over his shoulder, and then grabbed Twitch by the gnome’s belt with his left hand. Once both passengers were secured, the ork barreled towards the alley. The roar of the security bird was at his back and just as the runners hit the alley, the rigger opened up once again with his heavy gun. The slugs chewed up bricks and permacrete, but Razz was a step ahead and the pilot had to give up.

Faster than he had ever run before, the heavily burdened ork hit the end of the forty meter alley and spun to the left, continuing his barreling sprint. There was something in his way, a chain-link fence three meters high. A loud voice in his mind which had been yelling RUN over and over again changed. Now it yelled, RUN THROUGH IT, repeating the words as a brain bursting mantra. Just a few strides before the looming obstruction a small, much saner, voice began fighting against the voice of the drug. Slash it, the small voice said, quietly at first, but making up for intensity what it lacked in volume. It came through clearer and clearer as Razz ate up the distance between himself and the fence in meter-long strides.

Just as he got in arm’s reach of the fence, Razz stopped his mad dash, skidding to a halt as his combat boots fought for friction with a permacrete ground covered in collected trash and grime. His right arm, the one not burdened by a gnome decker, came up and fifteen centimeters of laser cut steel freed itself from the fleshy sheath in the back of his hand. Three quick, drug-strengthened slashes removed a good deal of the fence allowing Razz to duck through and keep on trucking, once again building up speed.

Another fifty meters and the three runners burst out onto a heavily trafficked street. Bright light from the clubs’ neon and the glare of public trid screens violated the ork’s artificially widened pupils. Razz howled at the stabbing pain, the air escaping from his lungs pasting a gaggle of club-hopping co-eds with red-tinted foam that had collected in his mouth. As they began to scream he cut right and began running towards the nearest intersection, attempting to squeeze his eyes shut, but finding the finer muscles of his face unresponsive. He peered through tears, searching for the beat-to-drek van that was his salvation. There it was, on his side of the street just past the Seventh and Schindler intersection.

The young women’s’ screams had caught the attention of the Lone Star patrolman stationed in the area more to put people at ease than to enforce the numerous drug and sex laws that were shattered every hour in the clubs surrounding him. Turning towards the sound he saw a slathering ork with an orange Mohawk charging towards him with an unconscious gnome in one hand and a bleeding woman over his shoulder. His first instinct was to hit the pavement as so many other pedestrians were doing, but then he remembered his uniform. The possibility of a hazardous arrest bonus was really what pushed him into hero mode. Pulling not his service pistol, but his Ares Supersquirt tranquilizer gun, the boy in blue leveled the weapon and yelled, “Freeze.”

All Razz registered as he spat out another mouthful of red foam was that there was another obstacle in his path. With the barest of thoughts, he spun his left arm in a full, wind-milling circle and at the end, he let go of Twitch’s belt.

The diminutive decker flew straight and true. Twitch managed to recover from his nervous paralysis long enough to begin screaming incoherently. The officer got over his surprise at the ork’s strange offensive in time to pull the trigger, but the narrow stream of DMSO and heavy duty tranquilizer had little effect on the gnome’s trajectory. The liquid mixture hit Twitch square in the face, halting his panicked cry, and then Twitch hit the cop, taking the man down. As the officer hit the sidewalk the impact stunned him and knocked the Supersquirt from his hand.
Running by, Razz once again grabbed Twitch and planted a farewell stomp in the lawman’s solar plexus, driving the wind out of his lungs and ensuring that he would not be getting up anytime soon. Only another dozen yards to go now. Razz was breathing hard and the pain in his head that had begun with the piercing lights was now pounding with every heartbeat. He had reached his peak just after the fence, the drug, a derivative of combat-enhancement narcotics with the street-name Kamikaze, was winding down and he was about to crash, hard. His mouth had gone completely dry, his pupils had constricted, and his over tensed muscles were sore and screaming with lactic acid build-up.

Big C must have picked him up on one of the van’s external cameras. It should not have been hard with all of the screaming pedestrians fleeing from the seemingly berserk ork. Whatever he saw, the rigger got into gear. The double rear doors eased open with a hiss of pneumatics to show Razz the van’s inviting cargo compartment. Big C was pulling away from the curb even as Razz dove in on legs that were getting heavier with each step. All three runners wound up sprawled on the van’s hard metal floor and Kim was moaning in pain from the abuses her already wounded body was taking. Twitch was none the wiser, still claimed by unconsciousness thanks to the cop’s squirt gun. Razz was hyperventilating, his desperately trying to catch up with his kilometer-long sprint.

“What’s going on back there?” Big C asked. His voice emerged from tiny speakers installed throughout the vehicle’s interior.

“Get us out of here,” Kim managed to say in response. “And watch for a Yellowjacket.” She then cried out as she pulled herself onto one of the bench seats attached the cargo area’s side walls.

There were two soft clunks from above as Big C’s vector-thrust drones took off from their roof mounted cradles. “Just hang on,” the rigger said to his passengers. “Overwatch and defense is up and running. We’ll be clear in no time,” he assured them.

Kim finally succeeded in taking a proper seat and applying a safety harness before slumping, nearly unconscious. “Razz,” she said.

The ork mage took a few more breaths before uneasily raising himself to his hands and knees and turning his head toward her.

“You did a good job, Razz,” she continued. “You saved us. Thanks.”

He swallowed a couple times, tasting burning bile in the back of his throat, before he could speak. “N-Null persp,” was all he could manage before his stomach cramped and he filled the floor in front of him with partially digested soy-burger, cola, and fries, and then unceremoniously passed out.
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tisoz
post Aug 2 2006, 10:42 AM
Post #4


Free Spirit
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Group: Dumpshocked
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Joined: 26-February 02
From: Bloomington, IN UCAS
Member No.: 1,920



Another Night in Poland
by SL James

Stanley Szarek sat huddled in a foxhole, waiting and praying. Three months earlier, he had been working in for Truman Technologies, enjoying a pretty comfortable life. Now he was sitting in a foxhole in the middle of a Polish forest hoping that the Russians didn't overrun their position. He had volunteered to be here, though. When the Red Army overran the border guard and invaded Poland, he'd initially expected NATO to quickly stop them cold without doing something stupid like resorting to full-scale nuclear exchange. But NATO had its hands full, and when his own country decided it would rather retreat than fight the war that it had spent the better part of a century preparing for, he couldn't take it anymore. The extent of his training in military fieldcraft were the video game and later simsense military simulators and first-person shooters and the occassional company paintball tournament weekend. To wit, he was good. However, he was good at decidedly nonlethal combat simulation. That didn't stop him. His country had betrayed his family's homeland, but he could not. Nor was he alone. The Chicagoland area was filled with thousands of pissed-off central and eastern European men who were furious at Congress' callow decision, especially in light of the fact that they knew that the U.S. was the only real hope for NATO to decisively defeat the Russians.

Support organizations had sprouted up overnight even before Congress proved exactly what a bunch of pussies they really were. However, once that happened those support organizations evolved into militias overnight. Men joined up, they would made trips into the Wisconsin or Illinois wilderness or farm country, and then they just "disappeared." Stanley was one of those men, and his family knew. They were reluctant, but they knew there was nothing that would stop him. He joined up with one of those groups six weeks ago, and went off into the woods of Wisconsin for two months of weapons and combat training. He then flew to Toronto, and from Toronto to Berlin, and joined a relief convoy headed into Poland. He and several of his fellow Chicagoans, along with expats from other parts of the U.S. or Europe into the Amerykański pułk - the "American Regiment." He was also lucky enough to be in a regiment with a few soldiers who were mostly Polish, and who walked away from the Army instead of abandoning their NATO allies.

Now he was in the middle of this Polish forest outside of Warsaw, waiting for the next Russian push. The first time his squad saw combat, he pissed himself. However, he gained his composure, he fought, and he lived. He couldn't say the same for everyone with whom he came to Poland. He saw a old friend from elementary skill sniped on a patrol back when the Polish army was actually trying to keep them out of the combat zones. They snuck through the rear lines, and made their way to the edge of the frontlines, and that's when a Russian sniper got his friend. But the Polish army and their NATO allies had given up trying to stop them because they couldn't afford to waste the resources, and now they were still on the edge of the front lines getting shelled by heavy artillery. The Russians had relented in the evenings because as it turned out the American Regiments were finding themselves better equipped than their Russian foes thanks to FedEx and the support groups back home, and were causing all sorts of Hell at night with superior night vision gear and coordination with their German allies in the Luftwaffe.

Back in the foxhole, Stanley stopped praying and checked himself for wounds. The man in the foxhole next to him was actually an AWOL U.S. Army Sergeant. He had been in the Balkans as a peacekeeper at the time hostilities broke out, and even saw combat there as the American forces regrouped and evacuated out Serbia to Germany. It was there that he decided to make a break for it once he found out that Poland had been invaded. While he fellow soldiers flew back to the U.S., he had made his way into a German unit headed into Poland. He joined the American Regiment the same time as Stanley had arrived, and was a platoon leader. However, right now they were sharing a foxhole after a sudden barrage of shells and rockets had struck near their position. The Russians were getting aggressive, as the shelling was practically on top of their forces as well as the Americans. "Sarge" was already unfazed, urging his men to maintain cover and ready arms. He then looked over at Stanley.

"Szarek, grab your shit and tell me what's going on." This was Stanley's moment to shine. When he left Truman, he "borrowed" some of the toys he was working on for Truman in their military simsense division. Specifically, he came to Europe with a suitcase full of simsense gear. He rigged up a series of remote-controlled vehicles and micro-UAVs that "fell of a truck" in Mannheim so that he could remotely operate them and receive simsense data from them. It was crude, but it worked. He grabbed a small black truck and turned the battery on, and placed it on the lip of the foxhole pointed east towards the Russians. He then slipped on a simsense rig, turned on the deck, and immersed himself into the simsense world.

His vision all of the sudden became narrowed down to a grayscale tunnel. He could feel the breeze on his face, but his vision was now that of the truck's. He listened to the sounds of the men around him, but they sounded differently through his noise-cancelling headphones. He pushed the rest of the world out of his mind as well as he could and he could see the field of view change in front of him as he drove forward towards the Russian position. The night vision made the world daytime again, and the green hue dissociated him from the carnage between the two forces as he pushed on. The toy truck moved forward, making a slight whining noise as it drove over limbs and rocks and shrapnel, around craters and bodies of men too slow to react to the barrage of fire. He could see movement through the forest as he seemed to get even closer--the magnification on the camera increasing to spot Russians before they might hear the noise of the truck and get curious. He had been a bit too eager before, and given the insurgent tactics already being used in Belarus and Ukraine, they would shoot up his drones if they heard them. However, too many times they gave away their positions in doing so and the GPS data he collected would get forwarded to a loitering Tornado that took out not a few forward units. He could see movement ahead of him--dark figures moving back and forth. The unidirectional mike was activated, and he was starting to pick out short bursts of Russian. They were out there, and they were coming... His vision pulled back a bit, and he could see movement across his field of vision. He stopped completely, and began counting. He then turned to the right about 45 degrees, and focused on movement at the southern edge. There looked to be a company-sized unit on the line, and their movements were increasing. He saw lights appear and then blink out again, and pulled back a bit and turned 90 degrees to the left. He saw another maybe 30 or so figures on that side, and they were moving more quickly. They were making a lot of movements, and he saw lights appear and stay on. Making a 360 spin, he saw no more figures, and instead began to haul ass back to the Allied line.

"Sarge, there's trouble. There's a company of Russians sitting on the southeast line, waiting for something, and a fast-moving platoon headed our way from the northeast." In his vision, he could see the same obstacles he'd just traversed, but they came more quickly. He stopped, and spun around. The platoon was definitely moving, and the company was going to try to flank them. Fuck "They're flanking. The platoon will be here in... shit..." The world exploded and he lost another drone to gunfire, but that was nothing because something hot and sharp slapped him in the mouth, hard. He dropped the controls, pulled his headphones and goggles off, and grabbed the G36 lying at his feet. They were launching RPGs at them from the north. Stanley loved the G36. His brother bought it for him from a gun shop in Peoria just for him, and sent it and several crates of guns and ammunition to Poland through the arms smuggling network which would go from the U.S. to Quebec to Rotterdam and then disappear before ending up on relief convoys headed into Poland from Berlin.

Another RPG streaked over their foxhole, exploding behind them and showering Stanley and the Sarge with detritus. Sarge was yelling into a comm to the rest of his men, and Stanley could make out the distinct sounds of the G36s and M-8s that comprised the bulk of their small arms, followed by the even more distinctive sound of AK-47s from ahead of them. Stanley's first reaction was to fire blindly out at the enemy, but he knew better. The Sarge was picking off elements of the diversionary platoon with three-round bursts. He looked like an inhuman warrior out of the future with the FLIR goggles on--a very deadly one when combined with the IR laser designator on his G36. Stanley had low-light goggles and an IR laser on his G36, and he grabbed it and threw himself against the berth. The laser projected a white dot on his targets, and like Sarge he began picking them off with three-round bursts.

One, two, three, and a Russian soldier went down as the bullets pierced his left shoulder, neck, and right cheek. He focused on the elements, as he heard three round bursts emerging from other foxholes, and watched as more Russians went down. The ones that moved or stuck to the cratered grounds were the veterans. There weren't too many here, they'd be leading the company to the south. Instead, men would freeze or try to find cover behind the remains of trees, and they'd get sniped. Too many got shot in the back. It was times like this that Stanley's mind returned to the first-person simsense games. He saw someone trying to shoot towards him from behind the remains of what had been a shelled tree. Stanley took careful aim, and fired. The burst tore off the right side of the young man's face. The tungsten-core armor piercing rounds shaved skin off, took a piece of his cheekbone, and then took his right eye. He couldn't have been more than 19, but here he was, dead in the middle of Poland because an American toymaker has the tactical upperhand. Stanley picked out another kid, and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened, and he realized he was out.

He ducked down, ejecting the magazine into his left palm, flipping it over to a fresh mag, and slammed it home. He slammed the bolt closed, and then pushed over the lip of the foxhole. He saw a grenadier kneel downrange, and the dot from the G36's designator fell over his chest. A three round burst tore right through him, and the RPG went off, screaming into the treetops. It exploded somewhere over the Russians' own lines. Meanwhile, he heard even more intense fire, fully automatic gunfire erupt behind him towards the southern element. They had picked off most of the diversion as the flanking company charged forward with gunfire and RPGs impacting all around them. Stanley turned to face what was left of the charge that had occurred when he was still working on the northern company, and then suddenly heard a loud roar behind them.

A German attack helo charged forward from behind, it's nose-mounted gun tearing into the Russian charge as it fired a salvo of antipersonnel rockets, obliterating whole squads in seconds as it arced overhead. To their credit, the Russians didn't seem fazed as they continued to push forward. They were still at at least half strength to the American platoon's 90% strength, and continued in spite of the suppressing fire being laid down by the machinegunners and the more accurate fire from men like Stanley and Sarge who could see them coming as if it was high noon. The helo had arced around, and made another pass at the Russian line, taking out large percentages of the two remaining platoons. However, as it passed overhead it banked too low and caught a lucky RPG for its troubles. It was a million dollar hit to the tail rotor, and the Tiger careened into the forest behind the Russian line, exploding in a fiery mess that flared Stanley's goggles.

Knowing better, he dropped below into the foxhole. Sarge was reloading his own G36, and he looked over at Stanley, and gave a slight nod. His toys had saved their lives. When they emerged, they saw the Russians had stopped the advance, and it had become a slow shootout between the Americans are the smarter Russian veterans who had found concealment or cover, trying to force the Americans ever farther out of their holes for the snipers to get. The remaining Russians began to retreat, and the two men in the shared foxhole picked off a couple of stragglers. Just because they were retreating now didn't mean they wouldn't be back later. And eventually, the gunfire died down. The Russians had disappeared into the woods, and there were now several dozen more men who would be remaindered to the Polish soil.

The Sarge and Stanley fell back into the foxholes. They'd have to move again soon. The Russians may have been beaten, but now they know exactly where they were. Sarge looked over at Stanley, and asked, "How many drones do you have left?"

"Enough." He then ejected his mag and inserted a fresh one. The contents of the old one would go to charge new mags in the morning, just like they had be done every other morning.
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tisoz
post Aug 2 2006, 10:47 AM
Post #5


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Jungle Fever: Epilogue
by coolgrafix

White plumes of misty brine shot up behind the T-bird as it roared across the narrow strip of beach and hit the shoreline on its way out across the Gulf. The vast Aztlan radar net to the west and the smaller but equally paranoid Yucatan rebel surface-to-air sites in the north remained equally oblivious to its passing. The bird screamed across the water less than seven meters above the surface, clipping the occasional wayward wave or seabird as it bore a trough through the Gulf on its beeline to points east.

Inside the smoke-filled cockpit the beast's gunner, Armand, lay reclined in his targeting couch, his right foot swaying slowly to the rhythm of the cockpit music, his broad smile and the expression of bliss and relaxation across his face only deviating ever-so-subtly from one minute to the next. Only the dataline from his headport to the weapons console betrayed the remote possibility of danger. Next to him the ship's pilot, Claude, stood and swayed as if conducting the cockpit's music himself, his lips silently forming the words "It's gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright) Sun-Shiny day... Look all around, there's nothin' but blue skies... Look straight ahead, nothin' but blue skies..." Only the autopilot indicator reading "manual" indicated to the casual observer that perhaps the pilot was indeed controlling the seemingly pilotless craft after all.

Sonically isolating the cockpit had been the best thing they had ever done. Now Bob Marley and Johnny Nash no longer had to compete with the infernal roar of the beast's many vector-thrust engines. Indeed, so relaxed and at peace were the two ganja-entranced Jamaican smugglers that the little drama unfolding in their rear compartment was going completely unnoticed. Behind them and below in the main compartment, perhaps a little too far removed for a really good contact high, an entirely different scene was playing itself out.

"'Olee screamin' banshees!" exclaimed Dooley as he put another two rounds into the spider-thing now twitching at his feet. He quickly scanned the compartment for his next target. He didn't have to wait long as another spider-thing made the decision for him by hurling its cat-sized body straight at him from the hold access door. "For th' luv' o' Pete!" he yelled, narrowly dodging the venomous creature's lunge. It, too, would hit the ground twitching.

Beads of sweat were beginning to appear on the Tir Na Nog Dwarf's forehead as he took a quick mental headcount of the spider-things emerging from the hold. "Where th' fraggin' slot d' these thin's come fr'm?" he kept asking himself between dodging attacks and pumping magnum rounds into the things. It occurred to him that the better question, however, was "Why am I th' only one firin' noow?" He afforded himself the luxury of a quick glance behind, but unfortunately what he saw wasn't the answer he had hoped for.

Viper, the big troll fragger, lay unconscious in a heap the size of a VW Bug. Next to him, equally out of it, lay Penelope, whose shapely feminine form was at this very moment in such a contorted position that under any other circumstances his gaze would have lingered. Across the cabin from them both was another Kodak moment: sprawled on the floor was the body of Wheeler, the paraplegic mage who had turned his condition into an advantage, his wheelchair familiar darting about keeping the spider-things off his body. At this sight the Dwarf DID linger, perhaps a fraction of a second too long. He saw the spider-thing from the corner of his eye, just as it was about to drop on him from above.

His dodge landed him square on his back in the middle of the compartment with the creature at his feet. One quick leap and it landed square on his stomach, making a sort of hissing squeal as it brandished its fangs. "Kaplow, kaplow!" Dooley made sure that little fragger never brandished anything again; the creature was dead before the Dwarf's ejected shell casings clinked together on the compartment floor, even as the other spider-things scrambled to take its place. His spent clip clacking against the floor, Dooley quickly slapped another clip into his piece. "Kaplow, kaplow!" One more down. "Kaplow, kaplow!" Another. And another. And still they came as he scrambled backwards against the bulkhead to regain his footing.

That's when he saw it. Or actually, touched it, rather. The yellow and black striped handle marked "Do Not Pull" slid squarely into his stubby off-hand as he scrambled for purchase. "Kaplow, ka-PLINK!" went his expended firearm as a wounded spider-thing continued its flight through the air towards him. Suddenly a thought struck him and he pulled the forbidden handle to the emergency airlock release lever. There was the sound of an explosion and immediately the compartment was flooded with brilliant light from the outside. The spider-thing in mid-air was instantly diverted and sucked out the airlock, along with a good number of his brethren who were unable to find purchase.

The T-bird lurched and swerved as the pilot attempted to correct for their new aerodynamics. The craft momentarily shot upward and rolled a bit to one side and then the other. Dooley held fast to the handle as more spider-things tumbled out. It seemed none were emerging from the hold access door now, and he dared to hope for a minute that the hold might finally be empty of them. The force of the wind was playing havoc with Dooley's vision. Paper, plastic, and spider-thing bodies were bouncing this way and that, all seemingly on their way directly toward him on their way out the airlock, and the compartment seemed to be filling with smoke. The craft lurched again and shot back upward and this time Dooley heard something pass close by outside and saw a smoke trail through the brilliant outside light. Either he had taken leave of his senses or this pilot was dodging incoming missiles!

The last remaining spider-thing had been the largest, and it was now slowly creeping along the wall, about half-way up the bulkhead, toward the Dwarf who was still holding onto the striped handle. A green slime dripped from its fangs to the floor of the compartment as it inched closer and closer, its mandibles wriggling in anticipation. "Bloody 'ell!" he exclaimed as he stared wide-eyed at another incoming smoke plume. "Ah'll ne'er fly ag'in!" the Tir Na Nog Dwarf swore as he threw his body flat against the bulkhead oblivious to his approaching foe. The spider-thing sprang at him. Just then the craft veered sharply and rolled hard to the port side. Dooley found himself dangling from the striped handle to which his left hand was still firmly affixed. The creature, however, found his trajectory altered and careened past the Dwarf. Dooley, suddenly aware of the creature, grabbed it by one of its many long flailing legs. The spider-thing hissed and squealed and brandished its fangs at the dangling Dwarf.

Dooley had had enough. Using the thing's leg like some sort of grotesque morning star the dangling Dwarf smashed the beast into the bulkhead. "I..." Smash! Squeal! "...have had..." Smash! Squeal! "...enough..." Smash! Squeal! "...of YOU!" he exclaimed as he pounded the creature into a frothy green mess attached to a single hairy leg. The craft leveled out and all the smoke and debris in the compartment that had been swirling around seemed to have found their way out the airlock. Panting and sweaty, Dooley slid down the bulkhead to slump on the floor, his hand still firmly affixed to the airlock handle.

"Hey, hey, little mahn!" Armand shouted, appearing on the steps from the cockpit. He seemed, for lack of a better word, upset. "What you doin' holdin' dat levah, mahn? You done gone ahnd sucked all our smoke outta de' airlock, dehr, mahn! Close dat up now, little mahn, right chway." And with that Armand noticed the state of the main compartment and its passengers. "Oh, no, mahn. Look what you do!"

Dooley explained what happened and the two resealed the airlock and helped the injured who, as it happens, were just regaining consciousness. Finding one of the crate's burst open from within, Wheeler explained that the spider creatures must have been in the large awakened fruit that Viper had sought to bring back to the States. He'd heard of such creatures breeding in awakened fruit in Amazonia, but never so far north as the Yucatan. If what he remembered was correct, they were awakened and had some kind of ability to put their prey into a stupored delirium.

"See? Knew it'd be worth some serious cred," Viper explained just before being smacked in the back of the head by a tail belonging to the green haired, bubble-gum chewing Penelope.

"Fraggin' idiot," Penelope moaned, rolled her eyes and then blew another bubble. Her tail followed as she disappeared up the stairway to the cockpit.

Their other valuable cargo, "The Bone Box," remained unharmed during the ordeal, having been well packed and secured, and apparently having no such creatures inside of it. Wheeler knew there was some serious mojo going on around the box, and every so often he felt the urge to go to the hold and open it. But he was smarter than that, having seen on the previous mission's video recording what happened when they opened the box.

The man in the recording had said something in a language that Wheeler did not understand, but that sounded somehow familiar. In fact, he realized that the tune he had not been able to get out of his mind all day, but which he could not place, sounded now more and more like the words the man in the recording had begun to recite: "Uxmal Uaxactún Yaxchilán Chichén Mal..."The man's voice was cut-off when the recording ended, and Wheeler could tell that whatever he was saying didn't quite get finished.

He was certain now that the sing-songy words he'd heard in his head all day were the same that the man had spoken, with only one difference: the words were complete. The entire recitation was in his mind, in its entirety, as if planted there by some suggestion. Perhaps he should recite the words himself? Was it some sort of charm or ward against the evil of the box? What did the previous mission know that they didn't? Yes, he should recite the words. What harm could come of reciting words alone? And then it hit him. The words weren't an incantation, or a ward, or a spell. They were old- no, ancient-- and something else... they were evil. His body went cold, his face went pale and goose bumps spread across the surface of his flesh. His hairs stood on end. The words were... A NAME.

***

The tiny Caribbean island of Corto Maltese had not changed in the short time they had been away, with one exception: A jet black Hughes Stallion had parked itself on the island's helipad jetty. And as they exited the T-bird they could see two figures dressed in corporate chic sitting patiently at a metal fold-out table they must have brought with them. Some equipment and a metal briefcase was spread out neatly on the table. The two figures were the elves from the meet, Elizabeth Lewyln and her male associate. The team approached the pair as Armand and Claude hangared the T-bird under its camouflage canopy.

"Greetings gentlemen," Elizabeth began. "I trust your mission was a success. You have the box?"

"You got the cred?" Penelope coyed, blowing another bubble, her green hair blowing wildly in the island breeze.

"And what of Professor Tequal?" Elizabeth answered back.

"Nary a sign o' th' pooohr bast'rd," said Dooley. "Looked like someone 'ad made it oot o' that place alive, but we coodn't tell who. If 'e di' ge' oot o' there, the rebels 'll surely find 'im. Maybe 'at's no' sooch a ba' thin' though."

"I see. Very well, then. The agreed upon price was ¥32,500 each. You each received a certified credstick for ¥10,000 at the meet." She opened the metal briefcase and retrieved four credsticks, placing each one into a device on the table. The credreader indicated each one was a certified stick worth ¥22,500. Viper stepped forward, examined the readout and nodded approvingly to the elf before him as he retrieved the sticks and handed them out.

"Unfortunately for all of us there will be no bonus for Professor Tequal's recovery," she added. There was a moment of uneasy quiet.

"Laissez le bon ton roulette! The party elf! She return to our 'umble island!" exclaimed Claude as he came over from the hangar canopy to bear hug the hapless woman. Armand appeared and did likewise, creating something of an elf sandwich between the two overjoyed Jamaicans. Elizabeth's eyes bulged and what color she had ran from her face as she was squeezed well beyond her tolerance.

"Party elf?" said Penelope outloud. "That cast iron...? Hmph." She cocked her head and blew another bubble, and twisted her foot as if putting out an imaginary cigarette.

"Ha ha ha!" roared Armand. "She made put on de pretend when she 'round strangers, but Claude and me... we bring out the true Jamaican in her. The party elf return! Ha ha ha!" Elizabeth sheepishly smiled and straightened her suit as the two eventually let go.

"Yes, well," she gathered herself.

"We have big luau again tonight, no? Ha ha ha!" Claude offered.

"It's certainly good to know that the island is still in good hands. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to report." With that she and her companion retired to one of the open bamboo huts, where they could be seen talking among themselves and at a com station. Armand and Claude prepared drinks for everyone and then retired to their hammocks, still talking among themselves about the good time they had with the elf. Apparently she was shapely and quite the wild woman when allowed, though you'd never know by looking when she was dressed for business.

The two elves returned from the hut, thanked the group for their efforts and regretfully informed Armand and Claude that they would unfortunately have to be leaving immediately... which meant that the team would also have to leave immediately, as this was the only ride to the States. Armand, who had already begun chopping pineapples for the looming luau, was crushed, but understanding. "Sometime soon you come back, no? Ha ha ha!" he told everyone even though he only seemed to address Elizabeth and Penelope directly. Viper and Dooley carried the "Bone Box" crate to the helipad and everyone said their goodbyes to Armand and Claude. After one last look at paradise they boarded the chopper. The engine roared up to speed as Elizabeth shut the door behind them.

Belting herself into a seat directly opposite the team she addressed the group. "We have another opportunity for your team. It's on the way back to Seattle, in New Orleans. A simple courier assignment. Interested?"

From his seat Wheeler could see the sky darkening to the north. A storm was coming.
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tisoz
post Aug 2 2006, 10:58 AM
Post #6


Free Spirit
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Curtains
by PH3NOmenon

When he woke up from the narcotics in the third-rate bodyshop his team was joking around with the doc. The old man wasn't the best at his trade but his prices were dirt cheap and he could hook you up with tech some corporate sellouts can only dream of. If you manage to wake up in his shop, you're guaranteed to be better than before. It was a big risk, but it seemed to have paid off.

The world was still fuzzy around the edges, he couldn't make out the words the elf spoke, but she was laughing. Graveyard hardly ever laughed. He never quite figured out why. He couldn't help but notice she was a purebreed elf. Her blond hair just reached her shoulders, eyes so blue they almost seemed synthetic. But you knew they weren't. Pure. The only thing foreign about her body was the nanotat on her lower back. He had often stared at it for just a split second too long, but he couldn't help himself. To him, 'yard was beauty incarnate. You try resisting that.

"...ling smarter yet, big boy?", the orc blinked a few times. He tried to grasp the meaning of the words. He looked at his hand. Chrome. A thing of beauty really, it was tricked out with all the latest tech. He couldn't wait to test out the built-in augmented reality gloves. He opened and closed his fingers. Strange, it felt like he didn't have any feeling in his pinky but other than that it felt just like his meat hand. Deltaware, you got to love it.

He looked up, the world was slowly coming into focus. "What do you mean, smarter?" They started laughing again. "Well, while you were out an opportunity presented itse-", "They brought in a fried Mitsuhama spider and neural 'ware doesn't keep too long in the fridge.", Graveyard interrupted the old doc, "We bought you a present omae!" She didn't bother with bullshit, she always got right down to business. She smiled. He liked it when she smiled. For some reason he noticed... more... about her. No, that wasn't right. He noticed everything about her. He noticed that her pupils were dilated a bit more than usual. He noticed the small drops of sweat on her forehead. He noticed the shape and color of her lips. He noticed a hint of a nervous smile still lingering on her lips. He noticed... that he loved her.

The impact of a bullet right beside his eye yanked him from the memory and back into reality. The corporate wagezombies were well-trained here, well-trained but still not well-educated. The fact that he had anticipated this didn't make it any less of an annoyance. He had taken cover behind the coolant pipes of the reactor, if the goons kept slugging metal at him the thing would go sky-high and he wouldn't even get to trigger the explosives he had planted. It was a foggy night. Almost as foggy as his mind, but his mission shone as clearly as the searchlights of the facility did. Disable the reactor so Bear can get into the upper level of the arcology to steal the data that shows... to steal the data. Damn. Why did he allow his thoughts to wander?

The mind is a peculiar thing in these matters. He had forgotten lots of things but not what he had tried so hard to forget. But it's not because you don't look at something that it isn't there. Just like the scalding hot piece of metal, burying itself in bone right beside a major artery, feeding pain impulses into the nearby nerve bundle, you couldn't forget it. He had taken a lot of things to dampen such searing, throbbing pain until it became a loud mechanical background hum that faded into the noise of the generators. But you could not forget it.

Fragging security pigs. He had to compliment them on their marksmanship though. He couldn't stay here any longer, he'd have to make a run for it. His brain was working overtime. His thoughts moved so fast it almost seemed like his cybered up body had begun to slow down. Just a bit more and he would actually surpass the capacity of the neural processor. Better lay off the third dose of Psyche next time. He felt a strange giddy sensation, this was going to be his last mission. After tonight he wouldn't have to live with the pain any longer. Peace of mind. Tranquility was just a faded, distant memory. If he was patient for a few more seconds his enemies would provide him with all the peace he'd ever need. All he'd have to do was sit still. For a moment he was tempted by the quick route out, but his wired reflexes made the decision for him. The soundwaves of the sniper rifle entered his ear and went straight to his backbone. His body screamed. Run.

The sudden burst of movement was answered by a sudden burst of bullets. The melody of fullautomatic gunfire backed up by the monotonous hum of the powerplant sounded strangely familiar. An inhumanly fast mind is a curse as much as it is a blessing. Flashes of the time he had spent on the dancefloor with Graveyard were crystal clear before he could contain them. He could feel her soft body pressed against his, their bodies moving in tune to the loud rhythmic sound. Everything else faded. His hands ran across her smooth, warm skin. Her deep eyes screamed desire and his entire body echoed that feeling. She was his world. The countless Better-Than-Life chips he had burned out in his skull over the last few months never even came close to that feeling. Waste of good cred. It hurt. The sound needed to stop. He pushed the button. The explosion was deafening. It'd be a good one, shame he couldn't stop and take a look. His legs were pumping like pistons. Just a few more hundred meters till he got to his bike. Blood gushed from the wound. It didn't matter. His job was done. The only reason to live was to find out if Bear had succeeded. Revenge was a tough business.

The world blended together into streams of light as he sped home on his bike. He left the chaos of sirens and gunfire behind him. At the thought that he would be remembered in the shadows as "That crazy chrometoy that attacked an arcology on his own!", a smile crept on his lips. It'd been risky. He had called in just about every favor he had earned since he started this job. He had even called in some favors he hadn't earned. He didn't have a choice in the matter. If Bear got out alive with the data then the corp would have a hard time finding a runner who'd work for them in the future. They'd deny it to the masses of course, but every runner worth his salt would know better.

He had arrived at the safehouse that had been his home for the last few weeks. Bear was supposed to contact him before sunrise. If he didn't he wouldn't be alive to apologize for it. The little blackout the explosives had caused should have made his entry easy enough. Bear was an expert. He had done some amazing shit in his life. He'd pull it off. The chems were starting to fade. The drastic ones anyway. Blood was dripping on the carpet. He was crashing. He wanted a smoke. Graveyard had made him promise he'd quit. By now his body had been messed up by things far worse than a simple cigarette, but he hadn't smoked since her death. He had to keep busy. This had become routine for him. An Ares Predator was lying on the coffee table between the endless stream of bottles and pills just for this purpose. He didn't think about anything as he started to dismantle the gun. He just waited for his comlink to spring to life with Bears icon calling his name. The color of his eyes was the color of insanity.

Time crept along slowly as if to taunt him but he didn't take notice. The autopilot of his mind was lost in countless memories and gun parts. His hands stopped moving. He was done cleaning the pistol. He let his glazed eyes wander around the room. The sun had come up. Aztech wouldn't be too forgiving about the fact that he shut down the primary power to their main arc. Even though their backup power would've come up within a few seconds, there most likely was at least one big corp official who didn't remember to save regularly and lost a few hours worth of work. Jesus saves. He won't be saving me. I’ll spare them the trouble of locating me. The magazine snapped into place in the pistol. He pulled a bullet into the chamber with a last, decisive click. Blood spattered over the narcotics on the coffee table. As he fell down to the floor one last thought managed to creep into his awareness.

I still can't feel my pinky.
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tisoz
post Aug 2 2006, 11:14 AM
Post #7


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All Good Things...
by warrior_allanon

The silence was clean and deep as I loaded what little gear I had left on my motorcycle. The Aurora was in storage with another member of the team and I had two magazines of insecticide capsule rounds for each of my pistols stored in the saddlebags of the big Harley. The majority of my pistols were also stored in my saddlebags, with the one legitimate in an open holster on my side, a Savalette Guardian with a clip of regular rounds in the extra magazine holder and a clip of flechette loaded in it. Dressed once more in worn and stained street clothes and an old oilskin armored duster, I climbed onto the Scorpion and started it. The deep throb of the engine was slightly soothing as I remembered the dream from the night before and the aftermath.

I had found myself once more in her apartment, wrecked like I had found it when the Alamos 20K goons had taken her to blackmail me. I could feel the anger at the events that had kept us apart, that had taken her from me fill me with an incandescent rage. As I stood there though, out of the bedroom walked wolf, walking toward me with his head hung low. Into my mind he spoke to me, as he had the few times I had gone on a spirit quest.

"Hello again, my child," said Wolf. "I know why you are here. You seek to hunt down those who destroyed the one you love. This I understand, for I too enjoy a good hunt, and I do not doubt your loyalty, but there is something more important to hunt. Somewhere in this world, the ones responsible for this carnage will greatly expand on what has happened here, and locating the one person responsible will not stop what is meant to be."

As the wolf seemingly finished I wanted to argue, to point out that vengeance was needed for this wrong doing. But the wolf continued, "I have touched the spirit of Morrigan, and know that she loves you unconditionally." As he spoke, another shape appeared beside him and my heart leapt into my throat.

It was her, Morrigan, and she seemed to be so real, so life like that I had to reach out to her, finding nothing but apparition as she reached out to me as well. Finally she spoke to me in the same way wolf had. "Wolfgar, it is so good to see you one last time. I know that it is your desire to destroy all who had a hand in my murder, and I love you for your loyalty to what we had, or could have had, however, I too would love for you to venture out into the world in pursuit of this quest for those that seek to destroy life as we know it. Know that I will live on in your memory, and will always be with you in your dreams. I know that your heart would rather be hunting down and destroying those that so brutally took me from you, but I also know that you love me, and will honor both Wolf and myself in undertaking this ultimate hunt."

After this there was no tear jerking goodbyes or even gentle farewells, I simply awoke to find that only half an hour had passed since I had fitfully fallen asleep in my own doss. Questions tumbled through my mind as I looked around the room. Had that really been her ghost, had wolf given me a vision quest to complete. I knew deep down there was no way I could defy either of them in this. As I sat up I noticed a large water bug crawling across the floor of the apartment. As I watched it wondering how it had gotten in the room, the bug turned its head towards me and pointed a leg at me. Drawing the combat knife from my boot beside the bed, I threw it at the bug, pinning it to an old atlas laying open on the floor. When I retrieved the knife I found the book open to the great lakes region of the UCAS, the bug cut in half across what was listed as lake Michigan. Could this have been a message of where to go, I asked myself as I got dressed once more. “Only one way to be sure.” I murmured to myself as I started calling my remaining contacts and team mates.

Seattle is disappearing behind me now as I head towards the rising sun. Out there somewhere, someoone is going to pay for her death, Not just her's either, there is something larger growing in the wind, and I will find it and even if I cant stop it, I will blunt it as best as I can, even if it costs me my life.
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tisoz
post Aug 2 2006, 11:25 AM
Post #8


Free Spirit
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Group: Dumpshocked
Posts: 3,944
Joined: 26-February 02
From: Bloomington, IN UCAS
Member No.: 1,920



We'll Meet Again
by SL James

They'll come for me and for... for them. They can find me. It's impossible to hide from them.

The elf sat in the darkness, leaning back against the padded wall of the troll-sized coffin motel cubicle. A blinking light on the closed laptop as he contemplated what he was about to do.

It had to be destiny.

He had wanted to see his daughter for the first time.

Funny how the Peace Force did me a favor in this.

By the time he made it to Seattle, he missed her birthday. But this was just completely ridiculous. It took him this long just to find her mother, and her, and now her mother was dead. Except that now she wasn't. His little girl looked just like her, and he would smile every time he thought about her; thought about meeting her for the first time, pretending to be a bodyguard at the house in Magnolia Bluff.

I don't really have a choice. It has to be destiny. How could I ever choose this path?

The laptop contained a combination of open-source intelligence, and field reports from the counterintelligence team at the consulate. He found her. Ironically, it came from the communication system that Niall gave him access to. RADNET. But the intelligence files also contained information on the elf. TRC counterintelligence had managed to collect a considerable amount of information on covert operations in the Pacific Northwest, especially those tied to Samantha. He read the file with considerable interest, absorbing every detail of the information that his country's CI people learned about one of the UCAS's best CI operatives in the region.

How could I have missed her return to the house? I should have stayed. I should have waited for Lauren to come home.

Her security system was quite impressive, even to him. He nearly got caught more than once just making his way inside. With free reign of Samantha's house, he took his time and wandered through the house, admiring her music collection, her small library, and the intelligence files he lifted off the cleaners. Wandering through her house, he'd sit on Lauren's bed and play videos and scan the photo library on his laptop, making sure to copy the files onto the computer. He even slept in Samantha's bed.

This is very bad. Too many people seem to want to know where she is.

She was in the SCIRE... The Arcology... and he had to get inside there before anyone else got to her.

Stop it! She's your daughter's mother, she's the woman you love, and she needs your help.

"Lights." An instant after he said that, two small dome lights lit up the inside of the coffin. He sat in his urban pattern UCAS Army-issue SOCOM BDUs. The old tricks were the best, especially when he was already headed into the heart of the military regime. He would descend into Hell for the woman he really loved, and for their daughter.

Checking the magazines on the modified M-4 carbine one last time, he admired the fact that they loaded them with APDS so that he didn't have to go and refill all of the mags with the ammunition left behind in the cache. He hadn't been too familiar with Seattle, but it was easy enough to find this place. There was a whole set of tactical webbing built into the BDUs, and he began attaching piece of equipment, grenades, spare mags, and so forth. They didn't have to do, but given the circumstances he preferred that it was them rather than himself.

It was a four-man recon team. They were Rangers from the 75th down in Fort Lewis. They didn't know what him them. After going through all the trouble to make his way onto the base, by the time he reached the stockades Samantha was gone. Her presence was hardly inconspicuous, and so was her transfer off the base. Leaving for the SCIRE as a blizzard was starting to pound the sprawl wasn't exactly clandestine. In the process of leaving, he found himself an elf his size, but the Ranger was with three teammates. He didn't intend to kill them, but it happens. He fucked up. One of them got a shot off. After that, all bets were off. He was lucky enough not to have the elf bleed all over his uniform.

I forego my Oath: Order, Corps, Path and Eire. They'll understand. The world will understand.

Patting himself down, the elf appreciated the streamlined design of the SOCOM fatigues. With the integrated webbing and modular parts, a considerable amount of gear was flush with his body, filling in spaces and helping to conceal what would otherwise be bulky pieces and bulges that could get in his way. He had to strip out the parachute harness, but it made room for a couple of mini-grenades. It's not like he was going to do a HALO drop onto the roof of the SCIRE. The laptop was slid off to the side, and he took a knee. Grabbing the Ranger's backpack from the back of the coffin, he emptied the contents onto the floor and stuffed his spare gear inside, some spare clothes for when they got out, and the Ranger's aid kit. He then grabbed the laptop and stuffed it behind everything else.

Before he left, he had one last thing to do. Pulling out a piece of soy-based paper and a pen, he started to scribble a note in (Gaelic) Sperethiel. After twenty years, he had written more than his share of these letters. This time would be different, because he wasn't writing it from fear or routine. He was writing it because he knew that he wouldn't see them again.


QUOTE

Fiona and Rory,
I know that the last year has been rather difficult, or at least I think I can appreciate your situation. I know that making that transition back to my birth parents after all those years with the O'Donnells was tremendously difficult as it was. Being in your position, coming back to us after spending a decade with your foster families only to find your mother and I separated and fighting over everything, I am so sorry about that. I just want you to know how sorry I am about that. But now, I'm about to go on a mission. It's very dangerous, and so I just want you to know that I love you both. You mean the world to me, and I would do anything for you. Everything I have done, or tried to do, was to make your lives better. I wish I could be back home with you. Sometimes I wish I didn't have to spend so much time away from you, but it is my nature as a Warrior to make sacrifices for his family, and for his country. You walk a higher Path, and I could not be more proud. I don't imagine your mother could be either. I love you both.<br>

- Dad



He was never much of for flowery writing. It just didn't come to him, and most people didn't particularly care. But he was leaving his entire life behind, creating an enemy for himself in the form of his Order and the Corps itself. One day, someone would come for him. But that would be for later. For now, he took another moment to focus and center himself for his mission at hand. Breathing out, he slipped the backpack on and then tossed a long coat on over his fatigues, and then his helmet to protect him from the weather as he stepped out of the coffin and walked down the darkened hallway outside. The attendants had all disappeared, and so it was only a matter of making his way to the SCIRE several blocks away, past what was left of the government center.

-----

Club Penumbra was an unbearably uncomfortable place for Sean. He preferred not to spend his downtime at these places, even during the bad times. He was still unsure about his plan, mostly because he lacked a coherent plan. It would be a task, albeit not an impossible task, to enter the SCIRE. From there, he'd have to actually find her. That was part of the problem in running a solo rogue op. It's not like he could deck the internal PLTG once he made it inside. It was one of those tasks he never got around to learning. Likewise, it's not like he could just wander around asking for her, which explained his presence here. If there was any location where he could find her, it was here.

With the Ranger's uniform and a comfortably vague accent he managed to one of the lamest clubs Sean had even ventured into the heart of the club, mingling with the many off-duty personnel who worked in or around the Arcology. The weather had grown worse, and the rumors had already begun to circulate about an incoming blizzard. As a result, many of them were getting in one last round before the building was locked up. He took a seat at a table booth near and plugged himself into the laptop. The camera on the back of the screen scanned the room, searching for anyone who might be of use to him and checking against any TRC dossiers. At the same time, he scanned the room himself, focusing on individual conversations. This was a chatty place, he quickly discovered. People gossiped about an incursion by Banded into the upper floors to re-establish a foothold on what was still a very powerful and secure building. Two shadowrunners at a table near the back whispered about the assault, which occurred just over a fortnight ago. At another table, four men were discussing their respective rotations in the hangars on the topmost floors. The topic of conversation quickly turned to the Osprey that arrived around eight a.m. without any warning until it was five minutes out. He perked up at the mention of such a transport. After all, what better way was there to deliver a package like Samantha from all the way across the metroplex?

"Do you guys realize who that was," one of them said. "It was that woman from the news. The colonel." He was an ork, probably no more than nineteen, but a bit shorter than the average ork.

"Bullshit," one of the two humans at the table exclaimed. "Why would they bring her here" She's probably locked up under some farmhouse in Snohomish."

"I'm telling you. It was that colonel. I saw her. A least, it looked like her photo from the news."

"Uh huh. And Dunkelzahn flew in on our watch, a dwarf said, laughing with the human that was giving the ork a hard time.

"Well, she did look different. She had a shaved head and this horrible star-shaped scar on the back of her head." Sean leaned back a bit, taking that in. Twenty years of killing people for a living gave him a pretty good idea of what that meant. "Anyway, they dragged her downstairs in a hurry."

Sean went back to his work for a big, digging through an appropriated TRC field report. From what the team sent into the SCIRE could identify, some of the hospitals were returned to their original purposes. The biggest exception to that was the facility on the 61st floor. It had been so warped in the astral plane that it was virtually unrecoverable as a medical facility. It was, however, the perfect place to lock up magically-active prisoners. There were also rumors of a room called the Warp Core, which was for the most dangerous prisoners. Any attempt to use magic would probably kill the user. It made sense for them to stick her in there, because it would make any attempt at a rescue or escape much more difficult because it was just above the residences which had been converted to barracks for all of the soldiers who were working in the arc, especially since the coup.

After a while, word began to circulate in the club that they were getting ready to close up the SCIRE, and everyone who was working in there needed to head back inside. Sean hung back for a bit, watching the various groups of patrons wander out of the club. Leaving a small tip for his waitress, and then packed up the computer. It would be connected through his helmet once he entered the Arcology. Until then, he made himself as inconspicuous as possible and melted into the crowd making the trek from Penumbra to the bus terminal entrance, hoping that his new ID would work.

-----

Sean could hardly contain his fascination with this behemoth structure as he made his way through the terminal, and into the mall, which comprised the first five floors of the building. It was quite an eclectic collection of people. The military had taken over storefronts (and, no doubt, the storage areas and service ways) and public areas throughout the mall. Some of the stores were actually operating again as stores. There was a commissary and a food court where their Renraku equivalents had been, and some other stores had been opened for, essentially, "mid-mall snacking."
On the other hand, most of the storefront had been locked down and were now (ostensibly) impassible. He had seen the schematics from Shadowland and knew that there was actually a viable and complex set of service tunnels and rooms, some of which were converted, some of which were abandoned (and possibly isolated), and some which were staging areas for the squatters whose presence had been marginally tolerated. He needed to get to one of the clandestine stairwells so that he could reach the 61st floor.

It was probably the largest and most secure military facility he'd ever entered, including the Pentagon, and as close as he could tell, he was locked inside. Perhaps it was the sudden sense of isolation, but mostly it was the announcement over the public announcement system from the garrison commander announcing that the SCIRE was now under Threatccon Delta, and all entry onto and exit from the building was prohibited. He filed that information in the back of his mind, and continued to make his way through the mall up to the Club Quarter on the sixth floor, where there was a service entrance between two of the clubs that hadn't been converted into a permanent VTOL hangar since 2061. From there he could make his way up to the 21st floor without much hassle, and from there he'd have to sneak his way through the barracks (permanent and impromptu) and living facilities which were restored. He didn't plan to make his way through most of the building alone. If he could hook up with some of the squatters who resided alongside the military in these floors, it would make his attempts to sneak through the building that much easier.

He took care to remain inconspicuous as he made his was past the back towards the offices. Given the numerous helipads available on this floor, JTF Seattle used it as one of their primary facilities for helicopters and VTOLs, both manned and UAVs. He made his was through the floor, avoiding the many air crews which were pulling in all of the drones and trying to secure the manned vehicles so that the blast barriers could be lowered. However, instead of stopping at the offices, he took the route he had originally planned to take. Slipping into one of the rooms, he locked the door behind him and slid all of the debris that remained against it. He then removed his carbine, coat and helmet, and dropped them over the remains of what had been a desk. He laughed to himself a bit that the desk was beat to shit and there were pieces of a Construct in here, but the door was untouched. With the coat off, he removed the backpack and placed it onto the group before reaching to the small of his back and retrieving a small reciprocating saw. He tapped the wall at various spots, and stopped when he recognized the void. The elf pressed the saw against the wall, and turned it on, letting it slowly cut a hole large enough for him near the floor. The plan was to climb distract anyone who became suspicious by convincing them that someone or some people went through the pipe junction core up to the 21st floor, which was the first floor that the junction would empty onto. After making the cut, he grabbed his gear and jumped onto the desk to reach the air duct on the ceiling. He removed the grate, and tossed his gear into the vent, and then pulled himself up and into the vent. He closed the grate behind, and then began his ten meter crawl south and come out near the stairwell while avoiding the VTOL air crews.
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tisoz
post Aug 2 2006, 11:56 AM
Post #9


Free Spirit
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Group: Dumpshocked
Posts: 3,944
Joined: 26-February 02
From: Bloomington, IN UCAS
Member No.: 1,920



Angels
by Critias

Looking back, I wish I’d known that was gonna be the last even remotely normal day of my life.

At twelve, though, everything was either gravely serious (boys, mostly) or competely ignorable (my parents, my irritating toddler brother, or the public school my parents half-heartedly sent me to). I’d been in Redmond my whole life, and by twelve I even took most of the dangers of my neighborhood for granted. I was big, even for an ork. In the last few years I’d started to fill out in other ways, too, but what counted (as far as the walk home was concerned) was that I was nearly as tall as a fully grown smoothie, and that my babydoll tee was stretched just as tightly across my shoulders as it was across my boobs. Just as importantly as my size, though, was the fact I lived there. People knew me. The block, a living, breathing, thing, was always watching. I might get a whistle or two, maybe a little grab-ass from a pack of younger kids that went roughhousing their way past me… but nothing serious. Nothing too bad. You look out for each other when you can, in a neighborhood like that. Even the Razors left most of us locals alone, when they weren’t tripping so hard on BTLS they couldn’t tell who was who.

So, imagine my surprise, when I got home from Marci’s and found my family’s little two bedroom apartment turned into a charnel house. I smelled smoke from the hallway, but didn’t think anything of it. My mom was never the greatest cook, and the soy-grub we ate most of the time didn’t cook very evenly anyways.

There was another smell I should’ve noticed, but didn’t. Death. Blood has a smell like nothing else, and when someone’s opened up just right by fist-razors, the smell of shit explodes out of them. It was the Manglers that did it. I’d learn, later, that they’d hit four other apartments that same evening, and swept out half of another apartment building that afternoon. The Manglers were a two-bit psycho gang, all chromed limbs (slick with blood) and metal eyes (staring at me, looking up from the ruins of my mother), cheap guns (two pointed my way) and drug abuse (riding the high as they’d gutted my dad and gangraped my mom to death). I turned and ran, fast as I could (oh god oh god why was the stove on what were they doing to my baby brother?), working my legs even while my throat spasmed and my mouth filled with vomit.

I heard three Manglers behind me, synth-voice boxes sending out barks and giggles and laughter like a pack of hyenas I’d seen once on a docu-trid at school. The sound of it (and the image of my family being used to paint their own walls that sticky-sweet brown-red) chased me down the dirty hallways and staircases as I ran, sobbing and puking. I shoulder-checked the rear exit to the building, sending the steel fire door swinging wide open and slamming it against the brick wall it was mounted on. I made it maybe ten feet down that alley before a Mangler was on my back like a freight train tackling me; all metal and heavy, hot breath that smelled like beer and coppery blood, hard steel hands groping every soft spot I had. Then another was atop me, and a third. I shut my eyes, kicked and scratched and bit. Nothing helped. They kept giggling.

Then, something incredible happened.

“Hey, fellas.” I froze up, the Manglers did the same. Their giggling stopped. Oh god thank you thank you I’m saved I’m saved I’m saved. Remarkably casual, the voice continued. “You guys know how to get to Jenny’s from here? Big party tonight, hot date waitin’ on me, an’ I’m a little lost.”

The Manglers were as caught off guard by the ridiculous question as I was. One climbed off me, and I heard knives slide out of his forearm. Another stayed wedged between my legs, the last one over me, pinning my wrists. I dared to open my eyes, and I stared down the alley at a demigod. Even for an elf, he was beautiful. Long golden hair like in an old Thor comic book, a body built like an Urban Brawler’s covered by skintight leathers and a t-shirt that looked painted on, impossibly blue eyes, and a face twice as handsome as one of mom’s trid-soap stars. An angel.

“Guys? Hello? Jenny’s? Little underground club, y’know? I’m not from around here, and my directions were crappy, and…not ringin' a bell, huh?”

He raised golden eyebrows, glancing from one serial murderer-rapist to another, amazingly incongruous question just hanging there. A little cherry glowed brighter as he took a drag off a cigarette, then looked down at me. I felt my heart pound in my chest.

“How about you, sweetie? You know where Jenny’s is?”

Terrified, throat too full of fear and bile to let me speak, I just shook my head ferociously from side to side. No, no, no, don't leave, don't leave. Please God don’t let him leave me here. Please don’t go, don’t go, don’t go!

The standing Mangler’s throat-speaker warbled and he barked at the newcomer, wrist-blades slashing through the air and making it clear he wasn’t wanted here. The one between my legs let out a hyena’s little laugh, and ground his hips. The stranger flicked his cigarette into a little puddle, and I watched it, still upside down, fly through the air like a shooting star. The elf shrugged, and turned to leave. “Oh well. I’ll find it eventually.”

I whimpered in renewed terror, then, and shut my eyes and tried to die before they got the chance to use me. Why couldn’t I swallow my tongue?! I’d been saved, and the angel had just wanted directions and now he was leaving me here. I shook my head, eyes clamped tight against the unholy sense of humor the world sometimes displayed, and waited.

I heard a strange little sound, and felt something splash across my chest and face. That same little noise – like a steel-wire brush shoved rough against wood – and the murderer between my legs collapsed onto me. The coughing-brushing noise, again and again, and I heard a steel-limbed body hit pavement. Even in Redmond, the sound of silenced pistols wasn’t exactly common. Or, rather, especially in Redmond. Your average ganger didn’t bother being quiet about his killings. I felt blood wash over me, and struggled to breath. I was pinned beneath a steel-limbed jackal, but I could still twist my head and open my eyes.

The angel was standing there, a smoking pistol in each hand. Some trick of the blue-white streetlight behind him turned his longcoat into wings, the gunsmoke into a halo, an aura of purity. The three Manglers were dead, each one with two shots to the chest and one to the forehead. It might’ve taken two seconds.

I hiccuped.

Given how the last two minutes of my life had gone, I think it was fair for me to still be terrified. At that moment, all I could think was that he wanted me, too, and wanted me before the Manglers had taken their fill. He promised me that's not why he'd done it. I wouldn’t know until a few years later, of course, when I humiliated myself by coming home smashed and throwing myself at him, that Deke wouldn’t ever be interested in me in that way.

Three years later.

“Lizzie, Blip needs five more seconds!” Deke hollered at me from across the office, machine pistol in each of his gloved hands, spitting fire. I pumped the action on my Mossberg and whipped around a cubicle wall, sending a rifled deer slug into a corporate security guard’s chest.

“Blip can kiss my ass!” Two bullets had creased me so far on this job, and the pain shoved past my bioware inhibitors, burning enough to make my cranky. I sent a second shot at the mass of guards that had attempted this latest rush towards our position, and they scattered into side-offices and left me the merciless queen of that hallway once again. “That bitch better do his shit right this time!”

We’d all gotten burned, took only half payment, from a job a month ago because Blip had gone and fucked up. Me an’ Deke had gotten his scrawny ass into the building (smoked a half dozen guards and two Hellhounds to get him there, natch) and then he’d just gotten his ass kicked by ice about four whole seconds after he’d jacked in. Deke’d covered us as I’d carried Blip out the building, the blood steadily pouring from his nose to dribble down the inside of my coat and down my spine. We’d made it to Skid’s van, stim-patched the skinny bastard back to life, and then we’d made it clear that shit would not be happening again, or he’d find a new crew. Give your buddies one chance after a fuck up, Deke had said the first time one of his crew had let him down, but if they don’t outdo themselves on that next job, curb ‘em.

“Two seconds,” the elf hollered back, cybereyes and headware radio linking him with the decker enough that basic communication was possible. Deke let out a long burst from each of his pistols, then whipped back into view as he reloaded. There was a stack of empty magazines at his feet already, but unlike me he’d thus far remained untouched by returned fire. A recent move-by-wire upgrade, where I was still getting by with what passed for top-of-the-line boost-ref’s, didn’t hurt. Neither did the fact he had a good five more years of experience on me. Still, we were neck and neck on kills, I think.

My ears picked up the clatter and shuffle and muttering of hard-armored men finding the balls to rush a fifteen year old girl, and I decided that two seconds meant we were close enough to endgame that I could waste a few toys on these bastards. I sent a slug downrange to make ‘em duck back into their hideyholes for just a second, then my shotgun dangled from its sling and both hands sent grenades bouncing and rolling down the hallway. I grinned.

I turned and ran, groping for my Mossberg as I went, and just as I saw Blip’s skinny little hand unplug his deck from the manager’s jackpoint, explosions roared behind me. Well, my end of the room was clear. From the looks of things, Deke’s would be safe in a second or two. The elf had advanced around his corner, confident enough in how few opponents remained to leave his cover. Deke didn’t fuck up; that meant the fight was almost over.

Two last bursts finished the patrols that had been sent to take the room from that side. Blip flashed me a geeky thumbs-up to let me know he had the data we’d been sent to retrieve. I triggered the radio tucked into my ear and spoke into the chin-mic, “Extraction in one minute, Skids.”

Deke gave me a confirming nod from across the room, and the three of us started for the staircase. Always avoid elevators, Deke had told me two and a half years earlier, when I’d come along on one of my first jobs, because security riggers are all assholes.

Sixty four seconds later our happy little family was all assembled, burning rubber away from whatever-the-fuck corp office it’d been, Skids living up to his name as he played getaway driver. Smoke’s astral form chased his meatbody down and he woke back up, head snapping to alertness and body securely buckled into the back of Skids’s van. The shaman flashed us his own thumb’s up – he didn’t talk much, our Smoke – and Deke nodded with an air of confident finality. Blip’s deck was full of juicy information (with a backup in his headware, knowing Blip), I wasn’t dead, Deke wasn't dead, Skids had us on the road, and Smoke hadn’t spotted anyone giving chase. All was right with the world.

It was my twelfth run, and it had gone smooth as silk. About the first year after Deke took me in – or rather, after I’d followed him home and he’d eventually slept on the futon and given me his bed – I hadn’t taken part in the business directly. I’d hit his weights, practiced with his guns when he let me, asked every smart and stupid question about his job I could think of, and quietly fell in love with him.

Then was the night he came home a little shot up after a bodyguard gig, densiplast skeleton and dermal sheathing or not, the bullet wins when meat and unfriendly fire crash into one another. I’d patched him up, watched over him for the two months it took for him to get smooth and steady again, and then he finally let me come along on that next job. I’d been with him ever since; him still sleeping on his futon and my ork-big body sprawled all over his bed, and the two of us earning a rep as solid shooters about once every six or eight weeks. In the two years since, we’d only had two jobs really go sour on us; Blip’s fuck up, and a Johnson double-cross six months earlier.

But this job was special. It marked an even dozen completions on my part. Deke and I, we’d made a deal. Twelve jobs with him, twelve jobs where he got two-thirds of the pay instead of an even fifty-fifty split, and then he’d help me out with something I’d been planning. Free of charge. Extra muscle. Keep your word, Deke had told me. And I knew he would.

Twelve jobs with my new big brother, and now the two of us were going after the Manglers. Every nuyen I’d made that hadn’t gone into ammo or upgrades for myself had gone to informants. I knew where the Manglers slept, I knew how many of them there were, I knew what guns they had and who they bought their drugs and BTLs from. I knew their girlfriends, their street docs, their prowling habits. I knew they’d hit my family (and a dozen others, that day) to send a message to my block’s Razors, and I knew they’d killed and cannibalized those Razors less than two weeks after the fact. I knew everything I had to know. I knew Deke and I could take them.

And, after this dozenth job, I knew he had my back.

Two weeks later.

We took our time. I’d been stocking up on gear for this job for the last two years, but a few more upgrades were in our cards after that last successful data steal. We’d both gotten optics upgrades (I just had a new set of goggles) – Deke’s eyes had been cybered all along, but so real looking you didn’t know until you saw him pull them apart for a cleaning – and the flash-bangs wouldn’t bug us in the slightest. My new smartlink induction pad itched a little, but the rush of feeling my Mossberg grow into part of my arm was worth it. I wasn’t going to miss, not one single shot, against these animals. Deke’s latest boyfriend, Glass, had hooked us up with good prices, too. He was a street doc (Deke had a knack for finding usefull boyfriends), and a good one. We’d had money left over, and I’d invested it in explosive rounds.

I wanted this job to be messy.

But, Sometimes things just go pear-shaped, Deke had once told me, No matter how prepared you think you are.

“Oh jesus oh jesus, baby, I’m so sorry,” I knelt on the ground next to my best friend’s ruined form, big ork-clumsy hands pawing at his chest and trying to stop the blood from escaping. The Mangler chief had a submachinegun hidden in his left arm and I hadn’t known about it. Not my footwork, not Deke’s contacts, not Blip’s raiding of their street doc’s computers, nothing had turned it up. The gun either had to be very very old or very very new to have been missed on all our records, but that hadn’t stopped it from spitting forth a stream of caseless ten millimeter rounds right into my guardian angel’s chest. “Don’t die don’t die don’t die please please.”

The fucker’d been lying on the ground with two deer slugs in his belly, I’d walked over to finish him off, and then he’d lurched and that arm came up, and Deke – my angel, my hero, my Apollo, my Superman – had appeared between us, caught mid-reload and unable to shoot the bastard, but quick Rikki-Tikki-quick enough to get in the ganger’s line of fire. I’d stomped on the Mangler’s skull until my boot was slippery, and a heartbeat later I was on the ground next to my Deke, trying to stop the leaking.

I’d gotten his ruined vest off, and it had done a good job but not a good enough job. The dikoted trauma plates couldn’t be everywhere at once, I guess. A half dozen little holes polka-dotted his once-perfect chest, golden tan covered in blood, rippling abs awash in crimson. I slapped a trauma patch over his heart. “All my fault, all my fault, all my fault.”

I couldn’t stop crying. I was twelve again. Someone I loved was dying to these same bastards, and I was that twelve year old girl who was scared out of her skull, but this time no guardian angel was coming because he was busy dying and it was my fault. Tears fell off my chin and splashed into the blood on his chest. I knew Docwagon was on the way, but my heart told me they'd be too late.

“Nng…hurtsss.” His flawless white teeth were pink, he loved me enough to turn his head away before he spat out the blood to try and talk again. “Hurts bad. Got…sss…somethin’?”

I looked around, frantically searching the abandoned warehouse visually and wracking my brain at the same time. I knew every drug these fuckers had by heart. We’d been ready to find them stoked up on Jazz, riding the wave of Kamikaze, high on Nitro, you name it. I knew what they had. I knew their inventory better than they did.

Bliss. I broke my shotgun battering the crate open.

I scrambled back over to my angel’s side, blood pooling around him like wings, crying and hiccuping. I slapped another trauma patch over his heart, then grabbed his arm and put on a Bliss tab. He might die, but he wouldn’t hurt. Not my angel. His impossibly blue eyes still looked up at me, crisply in focus and his teeth gritted in pain. I gave him another patch of Bliss, further up his arm. He squeezed my hand urgently, stronger than me thanks to upgrades and hard work, and I was scared my bones would break. I gave him a third patch, just inside his elbow.

His grip loosened a little, his eyes softened. He smiled up at me, that perfect smile from that perfect face. He felt better. I’d made him feel better. I cried, and he bled.

Four months later.

He was back on his futon, finally. My sweet, sweet, angel. Back out of the DocWagon clinic, back out of Glass’s clinic, back in the loft with me where he belonged. He didn’t even have scars, Glass had fixed them all up, smoothed them all over. One lung had collapsed, one bullet had nicked his heart, two had torn through his belly to lodge in his spine, two others had fragmented and fucked him up even more; my Deke had been a royal mess. The first trauma patch, a DocWagon sales rep had explained to us once Deke was lucid again, had stuck it’s little needle in the bullet wedged against his heart. The second, though, had managed to snake in and do it’s job, keeping him alive until that Trauma Team had arrived.

The convalesence had drained Deke’s savings. He’d worked for five years to, just like every other Shadowrunner, get back out of the business. Every investment he’d made into a new piece of cyber or bioware, every calculated expenditure of ammunition, every pick he’d made on who to work with and what jobs to take, had been a carefully planned manuever made to take him another step closer to retirement. One job, one hidden autogun, had pretty much fucked that up. My job.

I sat on the floor next to his futon, holding his hand and resting my head on his knee while we watched the trid. I’d missed him the most when I went to sleep at night. I’d visited him every day, but missed him those nights. The lights of the trid being on ‘till four am, the sound of the futon’s springs creaking as he shifted his weight, the dozen little things I’d so taken for granted when he was around. It had been a long four months, and I hadn’t been sleeping well.

I’d taken two jobs with just Skids and Blip and Smoke, and they’d gone well enough to keep the loft paid for and our crew’s rep alive. It’d been rough pulling double duty, trying to be twice the shooter I normally was ‘cause Deke wasn’t there and I was the only one worth a damn with a gun, but I’d managed it. My angel had heard all about both jobs the very next days, lying on his back and hooked up to machines with little tubes and wires, and he’d smiled that heartbreaking smile and told me how proud he was.

And now he was back. We’d sparred that afternoon (and he’d kicked my ass), we’d gone shooting that evening (and he’d kicked my ass), we’d scrolled through instant mails and Shadowland bulletin boards, looking for jobs. My angel was back, our loft was home again, and our crew was whole again.

Thirteen months later.

“You heard me!” I roared, arms waving, “I said ‘were you fucked up?’”

The loft was big enough it echoed, once. Deke tossed his head, looked like half of him wanted to stomp my face in, looked like the other half of him wanted to stomp his own. We’d lost Smoke about a half hour earlier. Our seventh job back together as one big happy family, and our shaman was dead. “Fuck you, Lizzie! There was nothing I could do!”

“Answer me, Deke! You look me in the eyes and you tell me the truth. Were, you, fucked, up?” I’d kept my suspicions to myself for the last thirty minutes, hadn’t said a word to Skids or Blip about it, just like I hadn’t told them about the two times, previously, I’d found out Deke was Blissed during a job. “Is Smoke fucking dead because you were high?”

“You saw what happened!” He shoved me, then, hard-muscles and augmentations overcoming our size difference, sending me back three steps and thumping my back against a wall. From the look on his face, he’d have been crying if he didn’t have cybereyes. “I wouldn’t have been able to save him anyways!”

That much, maybe, was true. The red dot of a sniper’s laser had danced on Smoke’s face for a half second, then the astrally projecting shaman’s head had just ceased to exist. There wasn’t much we could’ve done to stop the fifty-cal from hitting him, and with his mind not in his body right then even yelling something wouldn’t have helped. It had been all we could do to get out of there in one piece, running to put the building itself between us and the sniper, aborting the mission and making it home with the rest of us alive. That wasn’t the point, though.

“So you were, you sonovabitch. You were fucked up.” I jabbed an accusing finger at him, part of me scared he’d reach up, grab it, and rip it off. I knew he could. “You were Blissed, and Smoke caught a fucking bullet!”

I’d thought something was up during just our second job after his hospital stay. Deke was still quick as lightning, but something had been…off. Once he got moving, he was moving fast as ever, but he’d been sluggish to start moving, slow to make decisions. He hadn’t been focused. I’d brushed it off, that first time. Fool me once, shame on me. I’d caught him at it, seen him slapping a patch on as we were gearing up, before the third job. He’d promised not to do it again after that one, had looked all sheepish and smiled at me that irresistible way. And, natch, he’d made the same promise, after the next job, when I’d seen a little black patch nestled against that same spot.

“Fuck you, Lizzie!” He almost spat at me, and a part of me wanted to cry. “It was your fucking op, anyways. You were in charge, you took the job, you did the legwork. Smoke’s head is gone because of you, not me.”

“I can’t always stop bullets for people, okay? Fucking sue me.” I felt like I’d been kicked in the gut, but he didn’t stop. He took a step forward, pointing at me just as I’d pointed at him. My accusing finger wavered and fell, but he didn’t let up. “And since you know what happened the last time I tried that catch-a-bullet trick, maybe you should just shut the fuck up about what I feed my nerve endings. It’s my business, not yours.”

He advanced another step, and I pressed my back to the wall, scared he was going to hit me (really hit me, not like when we sparred) for the first time. Instead he stormed past me, grabbing his longcoat off the hook by the door, then vanished down the steps. I knew where he was going, but I didn’t try to stop him. I just slid down the wall, and hugged my knees. He was going to Glass. Glass would tell him it was okay. Glass would hook him up. Maybe Zen, which I’d heard he’d tried once, but the Bliss for sure. Bullet fragments from one of those ten-millimeter rounds were still lodged near the base of his spine. He felt it, when it rained. We lived in Seattle; it always rained. Bliss took that pain away.

I cried, head rocking back to thump against the wall every few seconds. It was all my fault. Smoke, and my angel, both, were gone because of me.

Seven months later.

When the tridphone chirped at me, I knew who it was. I hadn’t heard from Deke in a few weeks, which meant he was due to call. Aside from that regularity, though, I’d programmed the phone to a custom ring when it was Glass’s clinic on the other end. Skids, Blip, and I had been on another job a few nights earlier, and I’d been waiting on Deke’s call. The grapevine didn’t disappoint, and news of our success was sure to reach him, even at Glass’s.

He’d been staying there more and more lately. Since the night we’d lost Smoke, Deke had only been in the loft maybe half the time. He’d crashed at Glass’s clinic for a night or two, then a few weeks later had stayed there four or five days, then the month after that for a whole week; until, now, he was there at least as often as he was here. I knew he’d moved out – even if he hadn’t said it – when his collection of Morissey handguns had moved over to the clinic instead of staying here in the safe.

He’d only come on two jobs since the big blow up, since the night we’d lost Smoke. Deke’d contact us a few days prior to the action, call around and get me and Blip and Skids interested in a payday. Both times the offer had come right from Glass, one job to trash some other street doc’s clinic and another to raid an inbound autotruck full of medical supplies. I knew that, for all Glass was paying the other three of us in nuyen or our favorite corp scrip, Deke was just getting to shoot up for free and not pay rent. Bliss had him good. Glass had him good.

Aside from those calls, I’d only hear from Deke after the three of us had pulled a job without him. The Shadowrunner gossips did their work, and a day or two after each payday I’d get a call from Deke, asking for money. My growing rep was a double-edged sword. For all it got me bigger credsticks, it also meant news of my exploits spread through the grapevine (to Deke) that much quicker. I knew what he was going to use the money for, but I couldn’t quite say no to him. I owed him, and I loved him, and it was all my fault anyways. I’d tried to say no, once, and he’d tried to cry. His optics wouldn’t let him, tear ducts having long since been removed, but he’d sobbed at me over the phone and my heart had broken and I’d initiated a credit transfer.

After the fourth ring, I mustered up the courage to answer. I hoped the gossips didn’t know how big our payday had been; last night had marked our third job in a row from the same Johnson, and the eventual completion of the long-term task had come to us with a hefty bonus attached. I had to do a double take when the tridscreen blipped on. Was it Deke?

“Heya, Lizzie.” Yellow teeth flashed at me, but there was no mistaking that voice. It was the eyes that had me confused, though. His impossibly real, impossibly blue, orbs were gone. They’d been custom Leupolds, Delta grade stuff, top of the line work. He had some cheap Russian surplus looking jobs, now, and the skin around his eyes was still pink from the recent surgery. I swallowed a lump in my throat, a mixture of pity and disgust; Glass had helped him trade his eyes down a few grades for extra cash. He was feeding pieces of himself to the Bliss. “How’s biz?”

I knew where the conversation was going. I tried to say no that time, too. Like before, it didn’t last.

Five months later.

I almost killed him. Quickly and brutally, a jerk-snap with one hand on the bony chin, the other hand grabbing that greasy-looking yellow hair. His neck would’ve cracked more easily than the movies make it look, and he would’ve dropped like a cut-string puppet. No one hugged me like that, that suddenly, from behind, in the middle of a crowded dance floor or otherwise. No one but him, and I almost hadn’t recognized him.

My modified adrenal glands roared and I heard the blood pump in my ears for a second, but then it hit me. It was Deke. The body felt all wrong when it’d draped itself over me from behind, but when I turned to attack I saw who it was. I hugged him, the first time I’d seen him face to face in most of a year, and wanted to cry. It felt like my arms could’ve gone around him twice.

I held him at arm’s length even as he tried to hold on, and that lump filled my throat again. It looked (and smelled) like he hadn’t washed in a week or more, there were a few barely-visible patches of missing hair, blood soaked his gums when he smiled at me and a few teeth were gone. His elf-high cheekbones were too high, his skin pulled tight over his skull and gone waxy where it used to be golden brown. His long coat hung on his scarecrow frame like a bad joke, his clothes weren't filled out right any more. Even just the weight loss from Bliss and Zen abuse couldn’t cause that much of a body type difference; God, did he sell back his own muscles?

I made myself smile, brushed aside my would’ve-been dance partner for the night, and held Deke’s hand as he guided me out behind the club. His grip felt so weak. So very, very, weak. I blinked away tears as he grunted to shove open the heavy back door, stood outside with him and wished the crackling, blinking, light overhead would die so I he wouldn’t look so angular to me.

“Heya, Lizzie.” He smiled, and I felt bile crawl up my throat. “How’s biz?”

He knew how my biz was, just like I knew about his. Glass had broken up with him, kicked him out. I’d punched some wannabe’s face into a ruined pulp when I’d heard the asshole snicker over at The Hollow Point the other day, telling a joke about my guardian angel and how he’d fallen. He used to be hot shit, the smirking smoothie had said while his jaw still worked, now he’s not even a hot piece of ass. I’d let Skids and Blip pull me off him after my knuckles split open.

“Biz is okay, Deke.” I didn’t tell him that story. “How’s yours?”

“S’okay, Lizzie. It’s...okay. I’ve…listen, I’ve got some jobs lined up.” I wanted to shake my head, but couldn’t call him a liar to his face again. “And some money comin’ in soon. Glass ain’t, y’know, he ain’t holdin’ me back any more. I’m a freelancer again, takin’ jobs as they come, an’ I’ll have some nuyen comin’ in real soon.”

He spoke with the tone of someone who thinks saying something twice makes it true. There was a soft whir as his ugly Russian optics worked to keep me in focus. He was Blissed up, even right then. “But, ah, you think you could spot me some? ‘Till then? I’m a little strapped for cash, and got some, uh, bills to pay.”

And I’m a big damned idiot. I gave it to him. Again. Hating myself as much as him, I handed over a certified credstick.

Five weeks later

I was surprised to get the call this time. The special chirrup-chirp on the tridphone meant the incoming call was from Glass’s clinic (but only because I hadn’t bothered to change it). Why would that asshole be calling the loft?

When I answered it, I hated myself for hitting the accept call button. Deke stared at me, cheap cyberoptic lenses zooming grossly out of his sockets, each out of focus with the other but both glaring at the tridscreen. Blood was on his face.

“Lizzie, Lizzie.” One eye whirred, the other held still. He was trembling. “I need your help, Lizzie. Did a bad thing, a real bad thing. Opened Glass up, but can’t open the cabinet up. Nuh-need your help, Lizzie. My Lizzie, Lizzie. Gotta get the cabinet open. Gotta get inside. You’re so strong, my Lizzie. Please, baby, help me get the cabinet open. Please. Please.”

I thumbed the end call button, so I could cry without having to talk to him. I grabbed my jacket and my big Ruger, and ran for the stairs down to where my Harley was parked below the loft. My angel needed me. Bad.

I opened the back door to Glass’s clinic with a nudge of one booted foot. This was the living area, the mini-apartment where Glass lived but didn’t work. The door was ajar, and I knew then that Deke hadn’t just been Blissed out of his gourd and making shit up. Glass was as paranoid as any ‘runner, and if that door wasn’t locked and shut, he was dead. A few lights were still on, more than enough for my ork-eyes to make out the mess. The table and chairs were over, some dishes scattered on the floor, a blood trail left this back room and headed towards the business end. It had been a hell of a fight; that, in itself, saddened me. Deke used to be the best killer in the Sprawl. Glass shouldn’t have had time to put up a fight, shouldn’t have lived long enough to leave a blood trail.

My wheelgun led the way as I moved down the short hallway to the operating area proper. I stepped over Glass’s body – most of it – and saw my angel, my demigod, my hero, sitting completely naked on the floor with blood pouring from his hand and both Russian cyberoptics whirring and zooming, magnifying wildly in response to the warped stimuli from his chemical-addled brain. I smelled blood, just like that first time we’d met, and shit, and death. Glass was torn open, like my poppa’d been. Some of the blood was from Deke, though.

He’d split his forearm open. The cyberspurs he’d used to open up Glass, he’d then used to open up the cabinet full of drugs. They weren’t made for prying, though, and his body wasn’t a tenth of what it had once been; the mounts on his forearm had given about the same time the medical cabinet lock must’ve. Compound fractures are never pretty. Deke didn’t seem to notice the blood. I knew he was beyond noticing he pain.

“Hiya Lizzie, Lizzie. Myyyyy Lizzie. Pretty girl. How’s bizzie, Lizzie?” He giggled at his own little rhyme, flashing a split lip when he grinned. I didn’t know if it was from Glass, or from Deke falling or slamming his head against the cabinet or anything else he might’ve done.

I let myself cry. Right in his face, for the first time since that day he’d saved me. I saw Bliss patches on both arms, like leeches or ticks. Up and down both forearms, inside the elbows, up the biceps that had once outmatched my own. He must’ve slapped on every single patch he could find, stripped down just to expose more skin to stick them to. I blinked, swallowed, saw them on his inner thighs, across his loose-skinned chest, one stuck on his neck like a vampire. A few were Zen-slaps, but most were Bliss.

He went on talking like I’d actually answered, like he was holding a conversation with another human being and not just talking to the drugs. “Love you soooo much, Lizzie. Not like Glass. He said no, an’ you always said yes, my Lizzie. My little girl. Sooo sweet to me. You always said yes to me. I should’ve said yes. ‘Member that? That night?”

I looked away, tears falling. I didn’t want to think about that night. Fourteen years old, boozed up after my first big paying ‘run, high on celebrating the success, and thinking I was mature enough to seduce my guardian angel. It felt like it’d been forever ago. He’d laughed at my offer, then seen the hurt in my eyes, and explained. It wasn’t that he didn’t love me, it was that he didn’t love my plumbing. I’d been the naked one, then. He’d given me a kiss on the cheek, sent me to bed. He’d slept on the futon, that night, and I’d taken his bed. Like always.

“Lizzie, Lizzie. I done made a mess, huh?” Blood splashed as he waved with his ruined arm, gesturing to what was left of Glass, the trashed operating room, the knocked-over stools and trays, the scattered empty boxes that used to hold slap patches. I nodded. I couldn’t talk. His arm flopped back into his lap, and his head lolled back. His body spasmed, suddenly. Another of the patches must’ve just kicked in.

“Oh, wow, Lizzie. You don’t know what it’s like…this is…wow.” His eyebrows rose, military-surplus optics whirred and tried to focus. His whole body lurched, taut. “Baby, I’ve got a billion an’ one angels lickin’ on my ballsac. Woah. Jesus an’ all the saints, baby doll, are jackin’ me off right now.”

I rubbed one hand across my eyes, brushing away tears. My angel needed me. My shoulders heaved with a big sigh, and then I lifted the big Ruger .44 and shot him in the head.

I turned around, out of tears, and walked back to where my Harley was waiting.

I was done crying.
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+Quote Post
tisoz
post Aug 2 2006, 12:10 PM
Post #10


Free Spirit
*******

Group: Dumpshocked
Posts: 3,944
Joined: 26-February 02
From: Bloomington, IN UCAS
Member No.: 1,920



Inhuman
by mfb

Stack adjusted the rimless glasses perched on his nose, bringing the data displayed on their inner surface into clearer focus. His memory, by both aptitude and training, was such that the HUD wasn't strictly necessary. But the glasses were clean and delicate and expensive, just like the lavender silk shirt he'd carefully draped across his luggage before settling down with a microtronics kit to inspect the safehouse's security setup. He'd taken it off nominally because he didn't want to get it dirty; his charcoal wool slacks and black leather belt were even more expensive, but taking them off would just make him look ridiculous. Who disassembles electronics in a dirty garage wearing only linen boxers, dark socks, and patent-leather wingtips?

The tribal designs knifing up across his shoulder blades had a bluish color and no clean edges. The swastika tattooed on his left pectoral had drawn been by a computer-guided laser. Other tattoos threaded intricately around his arms and abdomen, some creeping up his neck, several obviously drawn with a sharpened paperclip and a broken ballpoint the way the tribal design had been. But Corby's eyes kept finding their way back to the flat black symbol of hate over Stack's heart. Stack knew this from the way Corby kept looking up or away every time he glanced over.

"You, uh, missed a screw, man." Corby's hand tried to reach up and pinch the tip of one pointed ear, but the other grabbed the offending limb and forced it back down by his hips. Twisting his ears had been one of Corby's habits since long before Stack got sent up the river for allegedly murdering a family of eight orks, but Stack remembered those ears being round.

Stack didn't comment, and neither did the woman with the bag over her head who was cuffed to the chair in the middle of the garage. She'd been silent when Stack decided they should just kill her and dump the body. She was mostly silent now, as Ignacio stabbed a 20cm hunting knife through her bicep. Just strangled grunt, squeezed off almost before it started, as blood welled and began sliding down along the ritual scars and the tattooed coral snakes winding towards her wrist.

Bander shifted uncomfortably. The spurs he extended as a nervous tick were constructed of memory plastic, reshaping themselves into hooks as they shifted to align embedded titanium flakes into razor edges. Stack had once seen him cut a kid's throat without thinking twice about it.

"You gon' be beggin' for de knife, puta," Ignacio purred. "Fuckin' Tuca get done witchoo—"

"'Nacio. Jesus. That accent's gotta go." Zulu could've been funnier if she didn't chop her speech when she was nervous. Ignacio grinned anyway.

"Shit. Just trying to scare the little bitch, Carol." Without the affected Aztlaner drawl, his words had no more color than water.

"It's so I can tell if anyone's tampered with it." The room was suddenly silent as Stack held up a plastic bracket the width of his pinky fingernail, then inserted it into the screw hole and used the screw to lock it in place. Just to be sure, he touched the bracket with the tip of his soldering iron, so that it melted over the screw's head. The email message displayed on his HUD blinked, then vanished as he shut down the client via REM controls. It had read, "She visits a garage in Redmond a lot. Checking it out." He swallowed a sigh as he slid back into his shirt. Irony sucked.

"That's cool," Corby nodded politely after a moment. Stack continued looking at him as he stood and folded his microtronics kit.

"I need like a thousand, cash. 'Nacio won't fuckin' front me!" Corby suddenly pushed himself off the wall like he was about to take a swing at Stack instead of hitting him up for a loan. Stack rubbed his hands on a towel, making the swastika on his chest jump and clench. "My rent," Corby exclaimed, holding out his hand and looking at it as if it held a slimy ball of rent, "is nine fucking hundred a month! Ignacio made me go under the knife in the first fuckin' place," he spat, "but when it comes time to make me fuckin' human again, none one of 'em'll fuckin' pony up!" He delivered this invective as smoothly as if it'd been rehearsed. Ignacio's head swivelled back to Stack.

"Well," Stack mused as he tossed the rag into the small hamper sitting against the opposite wall of the five-meter-wide garage, "I'm pretty sure I've got a few bucks stashed away that haven't been touched. Hell," he shrugged, "eight years' interest on some of the savings accounts... I should be set for the next few months."

"It's not 'Nacio's fault," Zulu Carol spoke up, now that the crisis moment seemed to have passed. "He's been running things pretty well..."

"We've been doin' good," Bander nodded agreement. Now that nobody was staring at him, Corby thumbed a chip into the port just below his jaw and quietly sighed.

"But I can't stack up to Stack," Ignacio shrugged. "Shit. You've got more cash than us." Everyone except the woman in the bag chuckled.

"It's just a matter of planning ahead," Stack shrugged, "and then adapting around fuck-ups."

Ignacio pondered this, then stomp-kicked the handcuffed woman so hard that she and the chair skidded backwards and tipped over. She didn't make any noise.


***


Stack balanced his schedule as the night-black crow swooped and clawed at the crawling chaos. Tucagwathiel had agreed to meet with the crew on the docks in two days, which didn't leave him a lot of prep time.

"Shit!" the crow squawked in Corby's voice. The bright red Doppelhaken that formed its right eye flashed, and a sudden storm of smaller crows exploded from the feathers of its wings. The fractal monster clawed at the distraction, and Corby flapped higher. Stack sighed.

"Natives are getting restless." Ignacio's report was shot through with oddly quiet streaks, the result of cheap noise filtering compensating for the gunfight surrounding the runner. The stolen security camera feeds stacked along the right edge of Stack's artificially-induced field of vision showed Ignacio coolly emptying his clip around the ferrocrete brick corner he was using for cover, then dropping back and reloading as return fire sparked past. The Hispanic runner had definitely upgraded his spinal cord. On the other side of the building, Zulu Carol staggered back with a hole in her forearm and a long, bone-deep gash just under her eye. The broken pieces of her voodoo mask hung around her neck by catgut straps that had tangled in her blonde hair. She whined into her mic as her hands clutched at a stylized arrowhead pendant, and her wounds began to close.

"Bander, back up Zulu," Stack's deck ordered once Stack was sure Carol wasn't going to die. Bander immediately turned and sprinted across the intervening space and arrive at the mage's corner just in time to rip the face off the dwarf who was rounding it to finish Carol. Stack didn't watch, focusing his attention instead on the cybernetic shoggoth and the program that had just finished loading into active memory. "Corby, back off."

"What—" Stack's UMS icon clapped its hands, and every animation on the host hung for a half second as 35% of its processing cycles were suddenly and violently directed to the task of replacing the countermeasure's database calls with random static. The shoggoth imploded with a ripping noise, sending shockwaves rippling through the host. "Holy shit!"

"Need a goddamn timeframe," Ignacio gritted.

"Corby." Stack's voice was bored.

"Uh! Right!" The crow fluttered down and cocked its head so that its Doppelhaken eye could focus on the elder pictographs which littered the Cyclopean plain. With a grave rumble, several lifted into the air, revealing themselves to be the tips of unfathomably large shafts of igneous rock. The pattern they formed when raised to their full height was one of unreachable madness. Stack dipped down and uploaded a file, altering a pictograph in a completely separate area. "'Kay, should be unlocked."

Ignacio reloaded again, but hung back instead of peeking around the corner to unload another barrage of 9mm Parabellum at the gangers encroaching on his side. Bander and Zulu shared a moment of silent communication, then Zulu peeled off. Bander's claws warded off a pair of humans in armored denim vests as Zulu wrenched open the door and stepped inside. Ignacio popped off a few shots, then he and Bander both sprinted into the entrance and slammed it shut behind them. Stack altered the host's log to remove his fingerprints from the uploaded file, then went back to his schedule.

"The fuck was that, man?" Corby had negotiated a private line to Stack's deck.

"Little present I made for myself."

"When? I mean, fuck!"

"They had a cheap terminal in the big house, and a library. I had a lot of time on my hands."

"But... how'd you get it out?"

"Email. Piece at a time. For white collar crooks, they lock the system down tighter, but nobody expects a decker out of D Block. Hey, what's that?" A blinking cursor appeared over the file he'd uploaded.

"Got it!" Bander crowed. In the uppermost window, the street sam tucked the chip containing the unaltered shipping manifest they'd been hired to retrieve into a breast pocket. Corby winged over to the marked file and studied it.

"Your friends are all coming around front to say hi."

"There's a whole lot of 'em," Zulu grumbled. She hugged herself, peeking at the front door from her spot behind a crate.

"Empty duct on the west wall," Stack advised them. "You'll have to crawl."

"Lotta encryption," Corby reported. "I'm grabbing it, might be worth something."

"Shit," Zulu Carol groused, glancing down at her bare legs. Before he'd been sent up the river, Stack had made her wear pants instead of the completely impractical loincloths and leggings she favored. These ones were faux-cloth-of-gold with artificial ruby beads in tribal patterns.

"I'm pulling up to the vent. Move it or lose it," Stack snapped.

"How much we gettin' paid for this?" Bander muttered on what he thought was a private channel between himself and Ignacio.

"Hey! It's a beetle! No burnout code!" Corby's voice was ecstatic.

"Not as much as we're going get from that bitch you caught," the Hispanic shooter replied grimly. He hooked his fingers in the grid covering the duct and yanked it free.

"Hope Stack don't fuss about it..."


***


"We was gonna have this for ya when y'first got out, man." Bander slammed his beer down on the workbench.

"Yeah," Ignacio agreed. "But, hell," he lied, "we were flat broke. And plus..."

"Hard to throw a surprise party," Carol picked up where Ignacio left off, "for a guy that catches you by surprise." Stack studied the color of his lager in silence, then resumed loading 9mm Parabellum rounds into 15-round clips, as he'd been doing for the past ten minutes. If anyone had yet noticed that the last round he slid into each clip came from a separate box from the rest, they hadn't said anything. The handcuffed woman hadn't said anything either, and Ignacio had gotten bored with her yesterday. He still hadn't pulled the knife out of her bicep; it had long since crusted over.

"I mean..." Bander frowned, trying to edge Stack into answering the questions nobody wanted to ask aloud.

"Good behavior." The ex-con didn't look up from his task.

"Offa... c'mon, man, two consecutive life sentences..." Corby tried for incredulous but hadn't been able to manage anything other than blissfully relaxed since slotting the chip he'd burned off of the file Stack had uploaded.

"There are a lot of Brothers in the system." Everyone got quiet. Attending Humanis meetings again wasn't a subject that had come up yet. "In and out of the cells."

"And the board believed, what, self-defense?"

"A lone white man in an ork neighborhood? Why not?" Stack surveyed his crew. "Hell, for all I know, it was self-defense. It's a bit hazy," he admitted, waving a hand to indicate his head. The other three members of his crew tried not to look too relieved.

"They gotcha with one of them grenades, right?" Zulu offered. Ignacio got up and slapped the scarred prisoner again. Stack nodded.

"I passed out hittin' spraypaint cans, once," Corby slurred. "Don't 'member a fuggin' thing, not even buyin' th' fuggin' paint. Day-um, this shid is fine..." His attention captured by something the chip was showing him, the decker sunk into silence.

"Leave that meatbag alone," Zulu sighed. Ignacio looked up from trying to break one of the woman's fingers. The bones wouldn't give.

"Bitch is pissing me off," he shrugged, stepping back. "Thinks she's fucking tough."

"Tuca don't like—" She stopped talking suddenly, looking blank.

"Yeah," Ignacio said carefully. "Tucagwathiel will have a harder time if she's beat up too badly." Stack pretended not to be paying attention.

Even the bag-masked prisoner startled when Corby suddenly shrieked, arched his back, and heaved a jet of bright red blood into the air.


***


Highway 16 was a string of harsh jewels mediating between the angry Sound below and the angry clouds above. The night was brighter than it would have been if it had been clear, low-pressure sodium light glaring down off the overcast sky like trapped smog. The seagulls hadn't been able to differentiate light from day for generations, and now wheeled through the wet air or huddled under whatever shelter they could lay claim to according to directives issued by the fucked-up abortion of a circadian rhythm the birds now ran on. Waves slapped the densiplast sheathing the concrete pier, occasionally rising high enough to drop corrosive brine on the reflective black bag that contained Corby's body. In its surface, Stack could occasionally see the gulls' reflection as they sailed past.

"So what do we do?" Ignacio was subvocalizing, pretending to be watching traffic on 16. He was using the private channel between himself and Bander again. Zulu Carol had been brought in, but only as a listener, since she lacked the 'ware to communicate silently.

The scarred woman stood in front of the bodybag, wrists cuffed together but feet free. The bag was still over her head, and the knife was still protruding from her arm. It was looking pretty nasty, recent movement having cracked the wound open to drain blood and pus.

"What's he gonna do?" Bander asked. Stack's glasses had an IR link to the Hyperdeck in his messenger bag, which was in turn hooked up to a radio unit. The conversation his crew was holding displayed itself as text in his HUD. He pretended to work on email.

"Maybe nothing." Ignacio, Bander, and Zulu all looked at each other. Carol's moue said everything that she needed to say about that.

"He knows we're not carrying membership cards anymore," the Hispanic runner pressed. "But, look, what's he done since he got out? Hasn't called anyone, far as I know. Hasn't gone to any meetings. Hasn't said word one to us about it. Didn't even fuss about Corby's ears."

"Yeah, man, an' we can all see Corby's changeling ass is doin' just fine!"

"There's—"

"She's here," Zulu Carol suddenly said aloud.

Tucagwathiel strode down the pier at a pace calculated to give the crew maximum time to take her in. The elf's platinum hair had been pulled into a long braid that wound around her body and throughout the white draperies that she'd clothed herself in. Her skin was so pale it was almost blue, and her bare feet had been painted with runic designs.

"You have damaged the product." Her voice was composed of multiple atonal chords that wove together like the strum of a lute, converting even the most mundane complaint into an angelic pronouncement.

"I'm sorry? Product?" Stack asked when no one else spoke up. Tucagwathiel gave him an arch look, then turned to the rest of his crew.

"We're going to off her once you find out who sent her," Ignacio said uncomfortably. "After that... you can make whatever arrangements you want with the body. The bodies. Not our concern." Nobody looked at Stack.

"Of course," Tucagwathiel murmured after a moment. "Remove her hood." Zulu pulled the bag off, and the prisoner blinked in the sudden relative light. The loops of scar tissue winding up both arms extended to her neck, but not to her face. She looked around, found Stack, and glared at him silently until Tucagwathiel put her fingertips to the scarred woman's temples.

The air is slick with humidity. She imagines wildly that her own sweat and breath has caused this, over the weeks—months? years?—that her body has been suspended here by the hooks in her flesh. But thinking about other things doesn't mute the horror of looking down and seeing glistening coils between the slats that have been carved out of her belly. There's no blood. Maybe she's run out.

Her fevered attempts at distracting herself by picturing ways the body could survive without a medium for hemoglobin transport are broken by a man's cold hand closing around her liver. He'd put things in her brain that make her feel terror and revulsion to any stimulus; he could torture with the sight of a newborn kitten, but instead, he shows her disconnected pieces of her own body. He's talking, as he pulls the purplish sweetmeat out of the S-shaped hole that curls around her navel. Screams stopped being enough eons ago; the unending horror has become too gorged and bloated to fit through her vocal cords, so she just stares and shakes and sweats while he talks so sweetly, so kindly, like a family doctor giving her a shot when she was six. Except the pain doesn't stop after a little pinch; it blossoms into agony, rots into panic, pulls the breath from her body and replaces it with a roiling, freezing liquid that leaks and steams from every pore and orifice.

The liver is turned in his hands, placed in a pan of oxygenated saline solution and nanoassembled artificial capillaries. A net of jellyfish tentacles grasps her liver, snugs it tight, force-feeds it nutrients and oxygen so that it can survive to be tortured and then fitted back into her body, resuming functions that are now subsumed by tubes running from puckered holes in her skin to a machine she cannot see. He did the same thing with her heart, ages before now. She watched him etch symbols of pain into the muscle, timing his movements to its continued beating, and when the blood from the cuts crusted and washed away, the symbols were still there, creased into the flesh of it. The jagged memory of feeling her heart slide back into place tells her that the sick misery her liver absorbs will be dumped back into her as he reconnects arteries and nerve endings and pads it with lumps of living fat he's cloned from her own cells. The real depth of his malevolence is driven home by what he fixes, rather than what he breaks.

Racine knows two things, two truths about the world and her place in it. She knows that there is a God, because the sheer volume and breadth of depravity and dreadful evil that fills her tormentor could only have been fitted into a single creature through conscious design. And she knows that God hates her, to have released her body and soul to Doctor Death.


Tucagwathiel stumbled back with a shriek, but managed to catch her balance before she fell. Everyone except Stack tensed. The reaction had surprised Stack, too, but it didn't change his plans. The elf gasped ragged breaths, leaning over with her hands on her knees.

"Racine Escobedo," she finally hissed. Race glared at her, now, instead of at Stack. The rest of the crew stared at Race.

"That ho from Detroit?" Bander asked timidly.

"Yes," Tucagwathiel replied firmly, reasserting herself now that her reaction to the reading was under control.

"No wonder," Zulu murmured.

"Indeed." The elf stepped forward again. "Let us try once again. This time," she said, sucking in a long breath, "I will not be unprepared." She touched her fingers to Race's temples, and everyone except Stack crowded closer to watch. Stack used REM controls to bring up the access menu for his IR pod, selecting a second broadcast frequency. He opened a text field and typed out the word 'boom', all lower-case, and prepped it to be sent on the second frequency. Then he stuffed a hearing protector in each ear and pulled a grenade out of his jacket. His right hand held the spoon and the grenade while his left pulled the pin and tossed it into the water. Then both hands crossed behind his back.

"I have discovered her master," Tucagwathiel announced, stepping back and blinking. Race shook her head; "It is he!" the elf announced, whirling to point at Stack. Stack smiled.

"Get over there with him," Ignacio growled after a moment, lifting his foot to kick at Race. The scarred woman stepped out of his way before the blow could connect, and backed towards Stack.

"What the hell, Stack?" Zulu demanded. When Race got close enough, the ex-con reached out with his left hand and keyed the release on her cuffs.

"He does not approve of our business methods," Tucagwathiel sneered, "nor the... tolerance you have come to show for the other childer races."

"Yeah?" Bander straightened up and looked at Stack. "Well, fuck him."

Stack sent the keyword out over the second frequency, setting off the plastique charge he'd molded around the belt of Zulu Carol's loincloth. The grenade in his hand hit the dock at about the same time as Carol's knees. Ignacio had his pistol out, cybernetic reflexes pumping his movements in fast-forward jerks. The Hispanic shooter pulled the trigger, sliding the dummy round Stack had loaded into every clip into the chamber. The round exploded with a pop, filling the chamber with gum and fragmented casing; Stack got out his own pistol and shot Ignacio in the mouth.

Carol's top half hit the dock, right about then. Most of it.

Even after everything, all the planning, Stack fucked up. The flashbang wasn't supposed to bounce off the dock and land in the Sound, it was supposed to stun Bander long enough for Stack to kill him. He hadn't expected Bander to close with him quite so quickly. The street sam was in his face before Stack to get his gun aimed, claws out and diving for the ex-con's chest. And then, with a crunch that caved in half of his head, Bander whipped sideways and hit the ground neck-first. The knife that'd been in Race's bicep for two days clattered to the ground right next to him, and the adept whirled and speared a hand into Tucagwathiel's throat.

The elf staggered back, croaking, and Race leapt in with a shin stomp and then broke Tucagwathiel's neck. The Tamanous agent groaned horribly, muffled by Race's muscle-corded arms, and then her eyes rolled up and the adept dropped her.


***


"I shouldn't be paying you," Stack said, handing her the credstick.

"I should be charging you extra," Race snarled. "Little details, like maybe 'Oh yeah by the way my crew works for her.'" Stack shrugged, rippling the swastika on his chest. His silk shirt was drying on a rack, now that he'd washed Carol out of it.

"Loose lips sink ships." Race stared at him for a while. She'd sutured her own arm and bandaged it. "I told you the important part," he shrugged again, and turned away.

"You're as bad as them," she said finally. Her voice was tired.

"They didn't hold a candle to me," he sneered. "And you? You're worse than all of us combined."

Race's boots clunked against the cement floor of the Redmond safehouse. After a moment, Stack heard the door slam behind her.
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Critias
post Aug 2 2006, 01:04 PM
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Well, just to get someone besides Tisoz talking, I'm gonna yap a bit about a few stories picked almost at random. I'm not gonna yap about every story but mine (because that would, y'know, give away which one was mine), but I'll pick a couple that jumped out at me, and share my terribly important opinion.

Samaritan (fuck -- do you bold short fiction titles, or italicize them? Or underline 'em, even? Crap, I dunno) was neat, but felt an awful lot like "OMG Samaritan is the bestest character ever, give me extra karma before I start running him in your game LOL," and not an awful lot like an actual Shadowrunner world story. While I've been guilty of writing a few such tales myself, I guess I'm not so much criticizing it as just mentioning it. It seems awfully "this character is a bad-ass"-centric. Neat stuff, though, and definately a different type of guy than your average Shadowrunner (why's a guy that nice a professional criminal, firing live ammo at everyday work-a-shift cops and guards and stuff, though?). I'm sure Samaritan (man, can't anyone just call him "Sam" to save typing?) is a fun guy to be in a game with. Definately a neat character.

Another Night In Poland, I've commented on before because it's partially my fault. I taunted a few people with the prospect of a game set early during the Eurowars, with modified (increased, mind you) Essence costs for the half-assed cyberware available at the time, and reduced potency of and likelihood of magical powers, and all kinds of cool shit to sort of power down the setting (making skills and such more important), to run a more-than-twenty-years-ago sort of cool game. I felt like an asshole when someone wrote up something that cool for a game I, then, never got around to running. Luckily, my conscience is pretty much wrapped up in my wife and puppy, nowadays, so that guilt's all gone. In the long run, I win! It's just what I remember it being: a solid story.

All Good Things was a little short, and a little...not action'y (new word, I call dibs). It felt like a really cool either (1) prologue or (2) epilogue; but served up all by it's lonesome it was just kind of a cocktease. Maybe a cool fight scene to establish the character (and show his gal dying), maybe a cool fight scene to establish the character (and show him mauling some people responsible), maybe just...something more, period. It was just a big ol' tease, as written. Decent dialogue, enough backstory to make me want more, but nothing really happening.

Okay. So I've pointed out three that aren't mine, just because I wanted to get the criticism/complimenting ball rolling, and not leave Tisoz hangin' here. That's all I feel safe saying. *looks around nervously* I must not give away secrets! I don't wanna talk about too many stories, and narrow it down too much, so no one votes for mine or something.
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tisoz
post Aug 2 2006, 02:10 PM
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QUOTE (Critias)
(fuck -- do you bold short fiction titles, or italicize them? Or underline 'em, even?

The bolding of the titles was my doing, unless the author already had it formatted differently. I did so to set it apart from all the italics (I was formatting them until I remembered I could just use the quote to reproduce the post.) On editing, there is one author who really needs to use spell check and learn that i is capitalized.

I am quite pleased with the response, perhaps there will be multiple awards.
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mfb
post Aug 2 2006, 02:13 PM
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one thing i notice about several of the stories is that they're simply a series of events--they're not really stories, per se, just long descriptions. you read them, and that's it. one of the things that makes a good story, as opposed to just a description, is that there's more there than just what happened.

i'll use Angels as an example--it's not just a description of an elf that saves an ork and then gets hooked on bliss. first, it's a bildungsroman, the story of how Lizzie goes from being a girl to being a girl with a gun to being a shadowrunner. second, it's commentary--Lizzie is looked on as a woman at 12 years old; and even more telling, no one in the story thinks twice about it. stuff like that, stuff that's present in the story without ever actually being written out, is what i'm talking about.

by contrast, check out Jungle Fever: Epilogue. i'm not knocking the author--it's well-written, it's got interesting characters, it's got some humor... but when you take the whole thing, there's nothing there except the events that occurred. nobody learned anything, really, nothing major changed in the characters' lives, no moral quandaries were presented.

so, yeah. descriptive ability is great, but it's also nice if the story means something.
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Critias
post Aug 2 2006, 02:14 PM
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Well, right, I didn't mean in specific reference to how you formatted them (bolding makes sense, to make the title stand out). I just mean, y'know, in general. Movie titles are one way, book titles are another way, yadda yadda. I'm idly curious as to what the actual rule is.

EDIT -- for clarity's sake, the above was typed as MFB was posting, and is in reference to Tisoz. I just didn't quote, because I didn't know MFB (the son of a bitch) was in the middle of typing something, and disrupting the flow of the fucking conversation, like a big asshole.
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mfb
post Aug 2 2006, 02:18 PM
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what do you know about the flow of conversation? you're just a cheap hack! not to mention a cheap date!
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Critias
post Aug 2 2006, 02:25 PM
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Bitch!
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SL James
post Aug 2 2006, 03:26 PM
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Generally speaking, italics for the book, movie, journal, etc. Articles in a journal or whatever is in quotation marks.

I still underline books because that's what we were taught when we used typewriters.

Then again, when I am feeling particularly egoist I do (book title, page number) when not using the Quote tag.

This post has been edited by SL James: Aug 2 2006, 03:38 PM
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coolgrafix
post Aug 2 2006, 05:44 PM
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Wow, so much to read, so little time. I might not be able to get to reading all of these until the weekend. How long is the poll going to be up?
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Platinum
post Aug 2 2006, 06:15 PM
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QUOTE (SL James)
Generally speaking, italics for the book, movie, journal, etc. Articles in a journal or whatever is in quotation marks.

I still underline books because that's what we were taught when we used typewriters.

Then again, when I am feeling particularly egoist I do (book title, page number) when not using the Quote tag.

What's a typewriter? Is that some kind of author or something?
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Backgammon
post Aug 2 2006, 06:18 PM
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Seriously, I got 1 down, plenty more to read... leave this up for a few weeks!
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Backgammon
post Aug 2 2006, 09:04 PM
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I was going to stick all my comments together, but at the pace I'm reading I'll probably forget stuff. So I'm going to go ahead and post what I have so far:

1st story: I've read it before, didn't re-read, no comment.

2nd story: The story felt bland. I was uninterested. The writting was good though.

3rd story: Better story. More interesting, original. The American unit fighting in Poland was an interesting idea, and explaining logistics for supply and recruitement was a nice touch. It suffered, mostly in the beginning, of bad sentence crafting. Reuse of the same word twice in the same sentence, repetitive sentences, etc, so that's one minus. Overall, I liked it. Not particularly shadowrunny exciting, but it was good.
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mfb
post Aug 2 2006, 09:34 PM
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only five votes so far? read! vote! have sex with prostitutes!
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Critias
post Aug 3 2006, 04:50 AM
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Citizens demand more feedback !!
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tisoz
post Aug 3 2006, 09:29 AM
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QUOTE (coolgrafix)
Wow, so much to read, so little time. I might not be able to get to reading all of these until the weekend. How long is the poll going to be up?

There is a lot to read/enjoy. There is also a game convention in less than a week. I will not be making a decision before the 14th, after GenCon.

[ Spoiler ]


Can any authors who are attending Gencon PM me? Perhaps with their request for which book should they win? If I plan on awarding them, I may deliver the book early and save/omit shipping.
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tisoz
post Aug 3 2006, 09:36 AM
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QUOTE (mfb)
only five votes so far? read! vote! have sex with prostitutes!

No doubt made by very fast readers.

More likely by the author himself and/or aliases/friends/relatives. This cynical view is why I do not rely exclusively on the poll results.
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